The Astronomical League Convention 2009
This years Astronomical League Convention, ALCon 2009, was held at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York, August 7-8. The convention was hosted by the Amateur Observer's Society of New York.
The list of speakers was impressive, including speakers from Astronomy and Sky and Telescope magazines, the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) of which I was one.
Topics ranged from amateur radio astronomy to cosmic rays, exoplanet research, astrophotography, meteorites, comet hunting, light pollution, and of course- variable stars. Phil Harrington's talk on the development of the amateur telescope was an excellent historical overview, and Phil does a great job of presenting material.
I saw some remarkable results from amateurs studying our solar system's planets, but was particularly impressed with Frank Melillo's images of the innermost planet, Mercury. Mercury is a devil to even find in the sky, because it is so close to the Sun most of the time. I think I've actually seen it in a telescope maybe three or four times in my whole life! Frank has taken imaging the planet into new territory with his home observatory, and the comparisons to professional results and the Messenger spacecraft images were impressive.
Al Nagler was both a speaker and a vendor at ALCon. He gave a talk on selecting eyepieces and then had his booth set up so you could take his advice and go purchase some excellent TeleVue products! Al was one of the 'legends' of astronomy that I had on my list of people I wanted to meet at this convention.
The AAVSO had its display set up, and my travel companion, Simochick, held down the fort and gave away handouts while I was busy attending and giving talks.
Some variable star related news came out at this meeting. The Astronomical League will soon be announcing it has a variable star observing club program to go along with it's well-known and popular Messier, Herschel 400, Lunar and other club programs. These are observing challenges that observers take on and when they have completed them they earn certificates and pins as a reward for their observing accomplishments.
It was an especially rewarding weekend for Sue Rose, president emeritus of the Astronomical League. On Friday night, at the "Star B Cue" banquet held at the Custer Institute, the AOS held a special ceremony to name its observatory the Susan F. Rose Observatory in her honor. On Saturday afternoon, Sue was informed that Minor Planet 1993 SR3 has been renamed 7194 Susanrose. As if that weren't enough, she also cleaned up in the raffle drawings at the end of the convention, winning a Galileoscope and the AL variable star observing book, written by Roger Kolman soon to be coming out!
Gordon Myers from AAVSO gave a talk entitled "The Facinating Universe of Variable Stars" that is available as a PowerPoint from the AAVSO Education and Outreach pages. My talks on "Epsilon Aurigae" and "Variable Stars and the Stories They Tell" are also available as ppt files in the AAVSO Presentation Library.
I got to meet several people who I have only known through email, Twitter and facebook for some time now, including Vivian White from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and Deirdre Kelleghan the 'skysketcher', from Ireland and Robert Sparks of NOAO.
Vivian is a Night Sky Network Administrator and astronomy educator for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Night Sky Network: http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/, a nationwide coalition of amateur astronomy clubs dedicated to astronomy outreach. Also a board member of the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers, she is passionate about communicating astronomy with the public.
Deirdre is a former President of the Irish Astronomical Society (2005 - 2009) she is now The Outreach Officer for the Irish Federation of Astronomical Societies. She enjoys writing articles on the wonders of astronomy and space, and her work has been published in Irish, English and American astronomical magazines. Her background has been in graphic design for print and magazines before computers.
Rob Sparks is a Science Education Specialist at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona where he works on a variety of project including Hands-On Optics, the Galileoscope, Dark Skies Awareness, and Building Information Technology Skills Through Astronomy.
Overall, ALCon was an impressive display of the people and capabilities of amateur astronomy in the 21st century. We are keeping tabs on the planets, stars and galaxies and doing education and outreach to inform the public about astronomy, space science and light pollution issues. ALCon 2009 clearly demonstrated the enthusiasm and expertise of the amateur astronomy community. The Simostronomer gives it two thums up.
Frank Melillo photo: Robert Naeye