Clear, Dark Skies Attract Stargazers to Annual Party
Calm nights and clear skies are again welcoming fields of night-owl campers — stargazers who come each fall during a new moon, bringing campers, tents and telescopes to Robbins.
Northern Moore County has been attracting astronomers since 1995. Their yearly camp-out is called Mid-Atlantic Star Party (MASP).
It is modeled on other such outings such as Vermont’s Stellafane — the oldest amateur telescope makers convention — in late summer and the Winter Star Party held in the Florida Keys mid-winter.
Its founder, John Dilday, established MASP in 1995 with encouragement from Gayle Riggsbee, Jim Presley and others at that year’s Winter Star Party. Hundreds now come to Robbins every year to look at distant galaxies, follow planets and learn about the vast universe.
Children age 17 or younger are admitted free but must be accompanied by adults, one accompanying each two children. Adult registration for the full event is $40, with day passes available for $15. There is free parking along the road and paid parking ($10) on the grounds.
“MASP grew from the desire to share with astronomers the fellowship that only a substantial gathering can provide,” Dilday says. “With help from volunteers MASP has continued to improve each year.”
Some volunteers manage on-site registration, camping in a trailer by the gate. Others conduct discussions ranging from astronomical events to telescopes, computer astronomy and astrophotography.
Dilday says the Robbins gathering has become one of the top such events in the eastern United States because of its central location, dark skies, quality speakers, professional vendors, great door prizes, Southern hospitality and, most important of all, the attendees.
Gates opened at noon Monday, but the coming Halloween weekend could prove a truly stellar occasion, with cooler temperatures clearing away atmospheric interference, opening the skies for spectacular viewing, according to Dilday.
“Come to the Mid-Atlantic Star Party and share the experience,” he says. “Come for a day, come for a night or come for the entire week.”
Robbins has encouraged MASP, with help from a local association of motorcycle enthusiasts, the Brotherhood of the Horizon. The group’s campground on Lakey Siding Road off the Old Plank Road is now home to MASP.
“The site is well away from big city lights,” Dilday says. “MASP is located in the ‘dark park’ east of Robbins. This is about halfway between Raleigh and Charlotte and halfway between Winston-Salem and Fayetteville.
“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, good planetary views as well as great observing of galaxies, nebulae and star clusters.”
Dark skies unmuddied by light pollution are rare in the eastern edge of the country, he says.
Visitors coming from the Triangle area or the Sandhills should head toward Carthage, follow N.C. 24/27 west and turn right on The Old Plank Road then right again on Lakey Siding.
Red and white “star and arrow” signs — a bright red five-pointed star above a red arrow on a white card — at intersections within a few miles of MASP point the way.
The MASP entrance is on the north side of the site. Upon entering the gate, the Brotherhood building is immediately to the left, just out of sight under the shade of some trees. There is an observing field just past the club building.
A section for trailer camping with hookups is just beyond that area. Farther into the grounds is a larger observing field for tent campers. The party has strict rules intended to protect the campground and ensure MASP’s welcome return in years to come, with future dates for MASP already set for 2012 (Oct. 11-19) and 2013 (Oct 31.-Nov. 7).
The event is family friendly, with no consumption of alcohol or disposal of alcohol containers allowed on-site. Pets are welcome, but not permitted to roam. Pets have to be kept in their owners’ camping area. They are not otherwise allowed on observing fields or in MASP facilities.
The most important rules have to do with light. Artificial light is the enemy of astronomical viewing, according to Dilday. Last year, headlights from vehicles passing near MASP were a continual annoyance that nearly forced Dilday to look for some other location.
Robbins hopes to persuade local residents to use only parking lights if they must pass along the campground during the MASP. On the grounds, the rule is red lights only after sunset. Red lights only are allowed on and around the observing field after sunset. This is to help preserve night vision of the other attendees.
“If you do not know how to cover with red filter material or how to disconnect the interior, trunk and door lights of your vehicle, please ask for help,” Dilday says. “If you must drive away at night, you must park in the separate parking field so you can depart without your lights blinding the remaining observers.”
The observing field is split into two areas — a “scopes only” area and an “open observing” area. The first is for telescopes set up without support vehicles, tents, campers and so forth. Viewers who need to have a support tent, camper, sleeping tent or car near their equipment must use the open observing area.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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