The pandemic lockdown had a curious effect on amateur astronomy. It shut down in-person events, of course, for about three years. But it also gave the astronomy hobby a boost because many people, stuck at home much of the time, rediscovered their backyard skies. Thankfully, however, early spring 2023 witnessed a renewal of some old favorite in-person get-togethers. One of the principal ones was the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) in Suffern, New York, held April 15–16.
In its first post-pandemic year back in action, NEAF was busy in waves, especially on Saturday, and we heard that 3,000 tickets had been presold. But it was not as busy as I have seen it at some moments in the past. Let’s hope that in-person events continue to revive and recover in the coming year or two.
This year I was accompanied by Dan Hickey, CEO of Kalmbach Media, and Dan and I had a great time chatting with many dozens of Astronomy magazine readers who stopped by our booth. We really appreciated seeing all of you and hearing what you’re up to these days!
Speakers at NEAF this year were really special. They included a presentation by astronaut Eileen Collins, who spoke about breaking the glass ceiling into space. Nagin Cox of JPL described how Mars rovers are paving the way toward a new era of exploration of the solar system. Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise described his historic adventures in space exploration. And NASA flight director Gerry Griffin added even more to the story of space adventures with his unique perspective.
NEAF is really special for its exhibitors, and more than 100 companies and organizations were involved this year. In the U.S., the event offers the best chance to see a wide range of telescopes, binoculars, cameras, and accessories for the astronomy hobby.
The largest and most active of all booths was that of Celestron, the largest telescope manufacturer, based in southern California. I had the opportunity to shoot several videos for Celestron at NEAF, part of a series we are working on together, called This Week in Astronomy. I hope you’ll tune in to see those videos on the two organizations’ web sites, or on social media. Celestron’s offerings of new telescopes and eclipse-related products are quite impressive. The whole Celestron gang was out in force, led by Corey Lee, and included Kevin Kawai, Kaitlynn Damron, and many others.
NEAF is like a who’s-who of telescope manufacturers. Also showing its diverse products was Sky-Watcher, led by Jeff Simon, with a big display of multiple lines of instruments. Vic Maris and his Stellarvue company was also present, and his high-end refractors are desired by many amateur astronomers. It was a great treat to see Al and David Nagler and their huge booth showcasing Tele Vue Optics, and discussing Al’s heritage going all the way back to working on the Apollo program. They were constantly busy and always chatting up adoring hobbyists. Similarly, Scott Roberts of Explore Scientific had a huge display, and even made live broadcasts with a variety of personalities right from NEAF. I was honored to join him for one of those.
There were also some more recent players who were making a splash. Yves Smadja and his team from Unistellar attracted great attention with their innovative telescopes, many of which are used for easy imaging. Rick Hedrick and his team from PlaneWave, celebrated for producing the largest and most impressive institutional scopes — and also for well-supplied amateurs — were all smiles and great fun to reconnect with. Stephen Mallia had a very impressive booth with his Starfield scopes on display, and I was really struck by them! And, of course, many other stalwarts were present again — Astro-Physics, Takahashi, and many others too.
It was great to be back to an in-person NEAF and to reconnect with many readers and friends once again. Let’s hope that momentum continues to pick up and we have a completely normal world again soon, one that allows us to enjoy this astronomy interest we share to its fullest degree.
David J. Eicher is Editor of Astronomy and author of 26 books on science and history.