Stargazers Converge on Robbins for Annual Gathering
Stargazers are coming back Monday -- hundreds of astronomers lugging tons of telescopes to look at the clear night sky over Robbins all speckled with stars.
It's time for the 2008 edition of the Mid Atlantic Star Party (MASP), a gathering of amateur astronomers that runs each year around the time of the October new moon -- the "dark of the moon" when stars are brightest. This year, it runs through next Sunday, Nov. 2, at the Brothers of the Horizon campground.
It takes place in a big field and conference hall on Lakey Siding Road just off the Old Plank Road between Carthage and Robbins.
MASP is patterned after the examples of Stellafane, the oldest Amateur Telescope Makers Convention, which takes place in Vermont in late summer, and the Winter Star Party, held in the Florida Keys in mid-winter.
"MASP exists for the benefit of its attendees and the astronomical community at large," said founder John Dilday. "MASP is located in the 'Dark Park' just east of Robbins. The skies at the site are just about as dark as they can get in the Eastern U.S.
"The location affords views of many deep-sky objects, including the Milky Way, some of the Southern sky objects, with good planetary views, as well as great observing of galaxies, nebulae and star clusters."
Dilday started the MASP in 1995 with encouragement from Gayle Riggsbee, Jim Presley and others at that year's Winter Star Party in Florida. It grew from the desire to share with astronomers the fellowship that only a substantial gathering can provide at a more convenient site near the middle of the Eastern Seaboard.
"With help from volunteers, MASP has continued to improve each year," Dilday said. "Most notably the Jacobs brothers have managed on-site registration for a decade. MASP has become one of the astronomy gatherings to attend in the eastern U.S. due to its central location, dark skies, quality speakers, professional vendors, great door prizes, Southern hospitality and most important of all, the attendees."
Dilday welcomes anybody to MASP whether for a day, for a night or the entire week. The gate will open about noon on Monday.
The site is well away from big city lights, and both Robbins and Carthage mean to keep it that way, with zoning moves afoot in both towns to protect the area from light pollution.
"Star and Arrow" points the way to MASP. These temporary signs are placed at intersections within a few miles of the campground on Lakey Siding Road off the Old Plank Road between Robbins and Carthage. The entrance is on the north side of the site.
First-timers are encouraged to arrive at least a little before dark to get acquainted with the area. There is no membership requirement. Anybody is welcome to come for an evening or to stay for the entire event.
Everybody has to register at the gate and pay a modest charge -- $10 for the day or $30 for the week -- to cover expenses. The fees are for grownups, but children (17 and under) come in free as long as there is one person 18 or older for every two children.
After dark, the only flashlights allowed are those covered with red plastic or with a red lens. Only red light is allowed in observing and camping fields at night.
MASP is also asking any drivers who arrive after darkness falls to turn off headlights as they approach the camp and park on the street. Neighbors are turning off their outside lights as a courtesy to the Star Party.
There is plenty of room for camping, and the site is RV-friendly with free space around the edge of the field for RVs without hookups and a limited number of hookups available at $80 for the entire week. Utilities provided include 120 volt electric current from a dedicated 15 amp circuit breaker/ground fault interrupter, water by connection to a shared distribution hose, and a sewage pumpout on Friday.
All RV spaces are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Generators are prohibited.
Dilday said, "MASP 2008 is a place for people to share their astronomy and life experiences."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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