Chicago Astronomy Weekend

It seems like almost all the traveling I do these days is astronomy related, and this weekend was no different. I'd been invited by my friend Roger Kolman to come visit him in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Roger never met a telescope he didn't like
Roger has a rather large collection of telescopes filling half his garage and a shed in the back yard, and his wife Elane had asked him to start thinning out the herd, so Roger offered to give me one of his 8-inch SCTs to use as a travel scope. The timing couldn't have been better, since we are leaving for the 2012 Winter Star Party on Saturday. This would spare me from tearing down the 12-inch and hauling it to the Florida keys.

Coincidently, Roger was giving a talk on variable stars to the Northwest Suburban Astronomers in the Chicago area on Friday night, and asked if I would like to tag along. So I headed out early Friday morning for Chicago, hoping to beat the snow storm that was supposed to arrive in the area on Saturday afternoon.

It was a mild, partly sunny winter day, the roads were dry, the traffic light and I had my fuzz-buster AAVSO decals displayed proudly in the back windows, so I peeled across Michigan, the tip of Indiana and made the 330 mile trip to Chicago in record time, four hours and thirty-five minutes.

Roger and I spent the afternoon discussing the Astronomical League's Variable Star Program and how we can strengthen ties between the AAVSO and AL, the LPV Section of the AAVSO, star parties, telescopes, and all the stuff two diehard variable star junkies typically share on while the Sun is in the way of observing. We also loaded the 8-inch telescope and its tripod into my car for the trip back to Michigan the next day.

AAVSO observers Roger Kolman and Barry Beaman
After a fine dinner of parmesan chicken Roger and I headed off to the meeting. The meeting was well attended. There were over fifty people there and several of Roger's students had come for extra credit in the astronomy class he teaches at Harper College. I was impressed by the number of younger people in attendance for this meeting. We often talk about the gray haired demographic of astronomy clubs and organizations, but the NWA seem to be doing something right to attract a younger crowd. Or maybe it was just that the old folks decided to stay home to avoid the snow and ice slicked road conditions in Chicago that night.

Among the guests was Barry Beaman, another former AAVSO councilor and friend, who had come all the way from Rockford at Roger's invitation. Roger's plan was to have the three of us act as a panel for the presentation and discussion afterwards, which worked out very well.  The talk was very informative and entertaining. Roger is an excellent public speaker. Barry and I were asked to interject some comments at certain points by Roger and the question and answer session went on for a good twenty minutes after, with all of us able to share our experience and knowledge with the audience.

After the meeting the three of us joined the the NWA at a local pizza joint for a late night meal, where we continued the discussion. Roger and I continued the discussion after getting back to his place around midnight. We reminisced and laughed over several rounds of drinks until the wee hours before dawn.

I needed a stiff jolt of caffeine to get me going Saturday morning. I chatted with Elaine and Roger over a couple cups of coffee before hitting the road. The weather had cleared, the roads were good and even though I was tired, things seemed to be going my way as I entered the toll way heading east to Indiana.

Soon after crossing the Indiana state line I ran into previews of coming attractions. The wind was blowing hard and I was driving through brief, but dense, snow squalls every few minutes. About a half hour later, as I headed up the western shore of Michigan, I was driving white knuckled in a full blown blizzard. Visibility was less than the distance to the car in front of me and there were cars and trucks scattered along the median and road sides pointed in all directions.

It was a long, exhausting push all the way to Kalamazoo before the roads were dry enough to get back up to highway speeds. I got back to Imlay City around 4:30PM, stopping to get a car wash (the car was trashed with salt and dirt from stem to stern) and rent a movie before finally pulling in the garage.

I'm really looking forward to the warmer climate and sunshine I hope will greet us when we arrive in the florida keys next weekend.

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