Lowell Star Party recap
The second annual star party at the Lowell Observatory blended astronomical history with cutting-edge science and, of course, dark-sky observing.
June 25, 2004
More than one hundred and thirty people enjoyed the sunny, blue skies — and clear, dark nights — in Flagstaff, Arizona, during the second annual Lowell Star Party, Thursday, June 17, through Sunday, June 20. Amateur astronomers from across the United States gathered at the Lowell Observatory campus atop Mars Hill to observe, attend lectures, shop at the marketplace, and tour the astronomical exhibits and historic grounds.
Star-party attendees chose from numerous activities to fill their days, including lectures on a variety of topics at the Steele Visitor Center. Kenneth Herkenhoff of the U.S. Geological Survey and a member of Spirit's science team gave an update on the Mars rovers, for example; project manager Thomas Sebring of Lowell Observatory discussed the cutting-edge plans for Lowell's Discovery Channel Telescope; and Lowell Observatory researcher Brian Skiff talked about the likelihood of "killer" asteroids destroying Earth. Tours of the observatory's research telescopes at its nearby Anderson Mesa site as well as of the U.S. Naval Observatory also were available.
At the marketplace, on the plaza in front of the observatory's Slipher Building and Rotunda Library, Inifini-Tees, Stellar Vision, Nite I's, and Scopebuggy offered items for sale. Astronomy handed out copies of the magazine, posters, and other information such as seasonal observing charts. On Saturday afternoon, door prizes totaling roughly $2,500 donated by these and other companies were awarded, including a Meade ETX-90 telescope and two Celestron NexStar 4 telescopes.
Observing at the Arizona Snowbowl was the main draw each night. Located 15 miles north of Flagstaff in the San Francisco Peaks, away from city lights and at an altitude of 9,300 feet (more than 2,000 feet higher than Mars Hill), the Snowbowl is where star-party participants set up camp and observed until dawn. The temperature dropped into the low 40s overnight, but otherwise, attendees reported great seeing conditions. On Saturday night, some star-party attendees set up their scopes at Mars Hill, sharing their equipment and knowledge with nearly four hundred people who visited the observatory. (In addition to daytime tours, Lowell Observatory offers evening presentations and observing to the public Monday through Saturday in the summer.)
For many in attendance, the highlight of the star party may have been observing through the century-old 24-inch Clark refractor. During the preceding week, star-party attendees were able to reserve private, 90-minute sessions with a Lowell staff member to observe through the historic scope. On Friday and Saturday nights, after the observatory closed to the public, the scope was opened to all star-party participants. One especially fitting celestial object on view was Pluto. (Clyde Tombaugh discovered the planet at Lowell Observatory in 1930 using a 13-inch scope, now called the Pluto Discovery telescope.)
While the high altitude and remote location of the Snowbowl provided a dark sky for observing, the beautifully landscaped Mars Hill campus, with its rich legacy of discovery, was a wonderful setting for this star party. The enthusiasm of both star-party attendees and Lowell Observatory staff members for their surroundings was unmistakable, helping make this party a wonderful blend of the past and future of astronomy.