The AAVSO Traveling Star Party

By now you’ve heard about several of us on the AAVSO staff traveling to various star parties throughout the US and Canada this year as part of our Centennial Celebrations. We’ve been meeting amateur astronomers and spreading the gospel and history of the AAVSO for nearly a year now.
My own personal experience has been that people from beginners to experienced astro-imagers are genuinely interested in variable stars and the AAVSO and they want to learn more. I’ve been invited back to give talks and run workshops at future star parties.

The other side of the personal experience has been meeting and talking with hundreds of amateur astronomers from around the country who share in the same passion for the night sky and understanding our place in the universe. I don’t care what anyone says, geeks are cool, and I’ve enjoyed hanging out with them under the stars as much as canoeing down the Niobrara River with them.

In an unrelated vein, some other activities I’ve been involved in this year have made me aware of Carolyn Hurless, the most prolific female observer in AAVSO history, and the star parties she held in Ohio, known notoriously as the “August Orgies”. I will be presenting a paper from Roger Kolman at the Friday evening Historical Session at the Centennial Meeting this fall about Carolyn and her astronomer friends, including Leslie Peltier, Clint Ford, Tom Cragg, Ed Oravec and Curtis Anderson.

It has also occurred to me, in my role as a planner of this fall’s centennial bash, that the social aspects of AAVSO meetings are every bit as important as the membership meeting and scientific paper sessions. All these isolated astronomers, used to sitting under the stars, or at the controls of their telescopes, in relative solitude, need a venue where they can get together and share their experiences with like-minded individuals who will understand what draws them to the night sky. Two times a year just isn’t often enough for these people to get relief!

Eventually, after swimming around in my head together for a while, these ideas started doing the backstroke together and a new idea began to surface.

Wouldn’t it be great if the AAVSO had a star party each year?!

It would be even more intimate and focused on the process of actually observing variable stars, and we would get all the social benefits of the star party experience. Old-timers could pass down their experiences to newcomers, participants could ogle each others gear and swap recipes, we could sit around the campfire on cloudy nights and share stories, and they would provide another opportunity to share science results in paper sessions during the day. Best of all, if we changed the location each year we could include more people from around the country by holding them closer to different populations of AAVSO members.

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, Mike. If this is as good an idea as you think, and everyone says let’s do it, you know who is going to have to do the work of organizing this thing, right?”

I’ve organized large star parties before for my astronomy club, and we have one each year at my place for 60-100 people, and it’s a LOT of work. I’m getting too old to continue adding things to my plate. No, there has to be a better way.

Then, while talking to someone about how well the Nebraska Star Party was organized, it dawned on me. We (meaningI) didn’t have to plan these parties. There is already a mechanism in place for that, the local organizers of these other star parties! They’ve already researched the locations, camping facilities, accommodations, catering, local weather and set up websites and registration processes. All we have to do is agree to which star party we are going to invade each year and show up with a bunch of VSOers. Everything else is already handled.

So I ran this up the flagpole at the last staff meeting, and got permission to go ahead with setting up the first one. All we needed to do was pick which star party we plan to invade this year.

Since we want to capitalize on the momentum we have going from the 2011 Centennial, we think it’s best to begin this right away. So we have decided to make the Winter Star Party, February 20-26, 2012, our First Annual Traveling AAVSO Star Party. What could be better than a trip to Florida in February?

Early registration begins in September and ends November 31st. Ticket prices go up after that. You can find out all about the WSP on their website.

Look for more information on the AAVSO Traveling Star Party soon on the AAVSO website.

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