Staunton River State Park for this autumn celestial event’s fourth year.
Staunton River State Park, with help from Chapel Hill Astronomical Observational Society (a.k.a. CHAOS), will host between one hundred and two hundred people who have pre-registered for the event (see details below).
Amateur astronomers and their families will come from states up and down the East Coast, and there’s a rumor that this event might go “International” this year with an attendee from Canada.
A view of the Milky Way taken at Staunton River Star Party
Staunton River State Park is an ideal location for this type of event. Here’s why:
First priority: Dark Skies. The park has that! There are technical ways to describe night skies, but possibly the best way is to simply say that the Milky Way jumps out quite early in the evening and only gets better later into the night. The park does a fantastic job of turning off parking lot and building lights. The lights that must stay on are covered in red plastic to help preserve the attendees’ dark-adapted eyes. Dark, starry skies are rapidly disappearing, and this park is working with local communities to educate them about alternatives which help to preserve the dark skies around the park.
Second priority: FOOD. Ok, so these are my priorities, and yours might be different, but we all have to eat, and the closest restaurants to the park are at least 20 minutes away. During the summer, the park operates a huge pool and an indoor concession area which handles hundreds of hungry swimmers every day. During the October star party, they reopen the concession area and cook a wide variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. That’s right; 22 hours a day during the entire event! Want a warm brownie at midnight? Hot coffee at 2 a.m. because the clouds have finally cleared? All of that is a short walk from the observing field.
Hot coffee? Snacks or a warm brownie? The "Deep Space Diner" has it covered.
Third priority: A large, wide-open observing field with a low horizon. Everyone who attends this event stays on one field. They can park their cars, campers, RV’s, and trailers right next to where they set up their telescopes. Near the center of the field, the sky is open in every direction starting around ten degrees above the horizon.
There is a large, wide-open viewing field for stargazing
Fourth priority: Stuff to do during the day. The park has miles of hiking trails, and lots of scenic views of the two rivers which converge and give this special park its arrowhead shape. Fishing and canoe rental are also available. Vendors attend the star party, and they bring telescopes and accessories with them. You can try before you buy! There is already a great lineup of speakers for the star party. Tyler Nordgren, author of "Stars Above, Earth Below" will be the special guest speaker. Also, the first SRSP Imaging Workshop, led by the Richmond Astronomy Club will be well attended. These presentations will take place in the park’s visitor center, which is even closer to the observing field than the food. It includes a conference room with a capacity of over one hundred, along with a projector and sound system.
Scenic views surround the park
Vendors bring their wares, including telescopes and accessories
Speakers and workshops make for a great learning experience
Other priorities: Plenty of bathrooms and portable toilets. Permanent shower facilities (with hot water) are available for the star party. There are even rental cabins, and those go fast. You might want to look ahead to the March event, if you are interested in staying in a cabin.
October is not the only time CHAOS ascends from North Carolina to Virginia. They also work closely with the park to host a shorter three night event which will take place March 19 – 22, 2015. Then there are the “Summer Sessions”. One night, usually a Friday, during June, July, and August, a handful of astronomy club volunteers bring their telescopes to the park so that folks from the local communities can look at the stars and talk about whatever is on their minds about space, time, shopping for a first telescope … the list of potential topics is long.
Is the public invited to the October event? YES!
If you or someone you know might be interested in seeing what a star party is all about, then Saturday evening is when you should arrive. You’ll be able to walk around and visit different telescopes, and their owners who will do their best to bring galaxies, nebulae, planets and star clusters down to the field for you to see them up close.
If you are interested in a lengthier visit, please register for the event using the details below:
Public Night: Saturday October 25, 2014 from 8:00 – 11:00 p.m.
Star Party Dates: Noon Monday October 20, 2014 to noon Sunday October 26, 2014
Registration Deadline: October 10, 2014
Star Party’s website (includes links to speakers and their topics): Click here