New site, familiar sky

Amateur astronomers gathered in northeastern Illinois for Astrofest, one of the Midwest's largest star parties.
By | Published: September 26, 2004
Astrofest 2004
Tom Ford
The 25th annual gathering of Astrofest attracted more than 800 astronomy aficionados to the outskirts of Kankakee, Illinois, September 16–19.

Moved from its traditional location of Camp Shaw-waw-nas-see, the star party was held at Vana’s Farm, wedged between two cornfields outside Kankakee. Astrofest organizers were delighted with the location and will hold future Astrofests there.

“This is a great site — it provides dark skies, is easy to get to, and has plenty of room for those who registered and those who will drop in,” explained Robert Mansfield, an Astrofest official.

The washed-out horizons to the north and east reminded observers that Chicago and Kankakee were not too far away. Despite the glow from metropolitan sprawl, the open observing field provided rich views of deep-sky gems.

Astrofest 2004
Tom Ford
On opening night, as the darkness came, so did the clouds. With hopes for clear skies dashed, many ventured into the 20/20 Optics tent for an impromptu musical performance. A handful toughed it out and were rewarded around 2:30 A.M. Friday with partial viewing. As the weekend approached and more attendees arrived, the observing field erupted with scopes and mobile observatories. Although cloud wisps routinely lay scattered in the sky, the remainder of Astrofest still provided great views.

When not observing, attendees gathered in the dining hall to keep tabs on weather forecasts and listen to lectures from notable speakers, such as Dan Falk and Bob Berman. Many chose to stroll the field, either to commune with fellow skywatchers or succumb to the temptation of equipment and astronomy-related goods sold by vendors.