North American star-party season reached a crescendo this past weekend as thousands of astronomy enthusiasts flocked to events across the U.S. and Canada. The festivals coincided with a nearly new Moon and the start of the annual Perseid meteor shower.
The biggest of the weekend's astronomical gatherings were Stellafane in the U.S. and Starfest in Canada. Some 2,000 amateurs trekked to Springfield, Vermont, for the 67th Stellafane convention. This year's participants represented more than a dozen countries as distant as the Ukraine and Philippines. Many people were returning to the annual get-together to look at (and through) telescopes, talk shop, and renew acquaintances. Others were there for the chance to enjoy Vermont's serene dark sky sprinkled with early Perseid meteors and the late-summer Milky Way arching overhead. And some were first-timers there to experience the granddaddy of astronomy conventions in North America. None went away unhappy.
Disappointment was just as scarce at the 21st annual Starfest, where some 1,100 attendees convened in green, hilly farmland northwest of Toronto, Ontario. With scores of telescopes scattered across the convention sites, and most owners inviting others to enjoy a look, there was never more than a few minutes' wait to catch a peek at deep-sky favorites and more exotic fare such as Stephan's Quintet, the Crescent Nebula, and Comet Hoenig. Multiple passes of the International Space Station and spectacularly brilliant flares from Iridium satellites were also big crowd pleasers. And those who stayed up late at Starfest on Friday night enjoyed a rare display of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, amid the stars of the Big and Little Dippers.
At Stellafane, people used the time between scheduled activities to wander among the more than three dozen homemade telescopes that were competing for prestigious awards given for optical and mechanical excellence (a list of winners will soon be posted on the convention Web site). In contrast, Starfest featured commercial exhibitors offering telescopes, binoculars, accessories, software, and other astronomical goods at discount prices. Business was brisk.
The Saturday evening programs were the most-attended events at both conventions — not the least because they featured drawings for valuable door prizes. In Stellafane's natural hillside amphitheater, the audience heard presentations from John Dobson, David Levy, and Carolyn Shoemaker. Stephen James O'Meara gave Starfest's keynote address.
Similar, though smaller, gatherings occurred elsewhere in both countries, including the Mount Kobau Star Party in British Columbia, Nova East in Nova Scotia, the Oregon Star Party, and the Summer Star Party in western Massachusetts. It was a busy — and fun — weekend for amateur astronomers. You can find a star party near you by searching through our online Event Calendar.