Saturday, January 20, 2018

Sixteen (Standard) Candles

Last night I joined three fellow astronomers at Grundland Astronomy Park (The "GAP") to celebrate the 16th anniversary of our local amateur group, the VPAS. Present were "Bird", Bill, Paul and myself. Chilly but quite clear out, we enjoyed the view of rising Winter constellations, the waxing crescent Moon, and a few meteors while drinking hot cocoa and reminiscing over the many observing sessions and meetings we've enjoyed over the years, and exchanging  favorite stories about nights spent battling biting cold, heat, dew and wetlands mosquitoes.

The GAP is located near the Chesapeake Bay shore of Hampton, and has surprisingly dark skies (at least overhead and to the north and east) for lying so close to the Peninsula's major population centers. The small observatory dome is built atop a 1960s-era Nike Hercules missile site, and we set up our telescopes on the road that parallels the grown-over concrete doors that once concealed those Cold War projectiles. The property is owned by Hampton Parks and Recreation Dept, who kindly allow us nearly unlimited access for our frequent observing sessions.

About VPAS: despite its rather clumsy acronym the Virginia Peninsula Astronomy/Stargazers is an elegant organization. No dues, no officers, no parliamentary procedures; we're just a group of amateur astronomers (437 at last count) who enjoy getting together to enjoy the skies and share its fascination with the public. We like to keep things simple--most of our communication is done through our Yahoo Group (below), and we have contact with several state and local park authorities. Our informality is, I think, our strong suit; we attract dedicated observers and beginner stargazers alike with an open, friendly and uncomplicated approach.

And we keep busy. A typical month will include a meeting at a local school or planetarium, two or three observing sessions at the GAP or at York River State Park near Williamsburg, helping-out with the monthly Virginia Living Museum (VLM) star party and working with local Scout troops on merit-badge requirements.

Back to last night: as Orion approached the meridian and Leo clawed free of the eastern horizon our little gathering began to break up. Tales of star parties and moved-on observing companions came to an end as we began to gather equipment and folding chairs; telescopes were stowed and the area policed of litter.
The GAP gate locked behind us, we said our goodbyes and started for our respective homes.

I've been a member of VPAS since late 2002. Over the many years of my association with astronomy I've been a member of several clubs and societies but I find this informal outfit to be a pretty perfect fit. I look forward to many more sessions on the old missile site, many more nights spent under these very friendly and
social skies.

The VPAS Yahoo Group:

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