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Friday, May 6, 2016

Nothing like a good Star Party

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who doesn't enjoy a good party? I know I do, and I have just returned from one of the best, the annual Nebraska Star Party held in north-central Nebraska.

Merritt Reservoir, near Valentine, Nebraska, has the darkest skies in the state and is the perfect venue for star gazing. Lots of room for camping and room to spread out hundreds of telescopes for astronomical observing.

Almost 200 people registered for the party from 16 states and two foreign countries.

Telescope sizes ranged from the small 80 mm to the giant 26-inchers. The big ones had most of us drooling over the observing possibilities.

If you were to observe an object almost overhead with one of the larger scopes, a ladder was needed to get to the eyepiece to gaze on the astronomical wonders presented.

In addition to the night sky, there were old friends from previous years with which to visit and a couple of cloudy nights presented just such opportunities.

Unfortunately, in addition to cloudy nights, the frequent Nebraska sandhills thunderstorm were present, too. Also present was another star party nemesis, the mosquito.

They would usually come in two waves. The first wave wasn't too bad. Commercial insect repellant usually worked to keep the little beasties away, but the second wave were the hardened combat troops. There didn't seem to be anything to deter them from their appointed tasks.

They made their appearance about an hour and a half after the first wave was repulsed. They came in squadrons with determination and there was nothing, save for the judicious swat, that would end their mission.

I am sure that during one of those attacks I gave at least two pints of blood one mosquito at a time.

The Nebraska Star Party is very family-friendly. Children are encouraged to attend and participate in the activities. One way they are encouraged is by giving door prizes (adults receive door prizes too).

I still remember the gleam in one youngster's eyes when he discovered he had won a very nice small telescope. The eyes of the adults were agleam, too, when they won some of the larger prizes.

Wednesday activities are daytime events held at the local high school and center around the swap-meet, special events for the children and some interesting lecture presentations concerning astronomy for the adults.

Lunch on Wednesday is catered by a local pizza emporium and always draws everyone's attention.

In addition to the great opportunities to see celestial objects that might not be in reach from light-polluted areas, there are sometimes surprises in the night sky.

There were some previews of the coming Perseid Meteor shower. Bright, long-tailed meteors crisscrossed the night sky from time to time causing a chorus of "Oooohhh's" from those on the observing field.

But for me the best surprise was the astounding display of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.

During the Friday night viewing session for the public a small glow started just over the northern horizon. It slowly grew and brightened until there were large spikes of light reaching almost halfway up the sky and stretching along the entire northern horizon.

But, there was more. Along the base of the aurora was a thin line of clouds flashing bolts of lightening. I called this "The Aurora Symphony With Lightening Accompaniment." To use the words of a popular credit card company --Priceless.


Full moon on Saturday, Aug. 13, will wipe out all but the brightest of the Perseid meteor shower which is at its best on Saturday.


More astronomical blathering.

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Vernon Whetstone
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