My 2011 Kopernik AstroFest 2011 Experience

This year at Kopernik AstroFest 2011, the skies were just down right mean to us.  It never really rained (as far as I can remember) but we were socked in with clouds for 49 of the total possible 54 hours of AstroFest from Friday September 30th until Sunday October 2.  We’ve come to expect this living in upstate, NY.  That’s why our fantastic leadership team booked so many great speakers and guests to present and attend AstroFest 2011.

With this in mind, I first point to the time I spent with Barlow Bob.  I have to admit, I was a bit leery about what magic Barlow Bob would pull out of the van with such dismal daytime skies.  I’ve attended Barlow Bob’s NEAF Solar Star Party to observe “Bob’s Only Star he cares about.”  And I know he has a VERY amazing inventory of solar observing equipment. When I previewed the weather forecast, I was a bit bummed out that I would not be able to play with these wonderful solar observing toys.

But as I’ve come to expect from Barlow Bob’s reputation – I wouldn’t be disappointed.  We spent the better part of Friday and Saturday playing with different spectrascopes and spectragraphs.  We observed a variety of different gases contained in small light bulbs that emitted different types of spectra.   We observed everything from some elements similar to those in our sun to the ever-puzzling spectra produced by Iodine.

After this experience, I’m fairly interested in purchasing a Rainbow Spectrascope, which allows the observer to see the spectra of any light source through a telescope.  The idea is there’s a lens cell that screws on top of the eyepiece, and then there’s a grated spectrum cell that screws on the bottom of the eyepiece (see here for a detailed description –


The Rainbow Spectrascope
The Rainbow Spectrascope

I had a really great time hanging with Barlow Bob during the weekend.  I was kind of assigned to be his roadie, which would have been a way cooler gig had we been given clearer skies.  Truth be told, I’m kind of glad the skies were a bit rough, as it allowed me more time to get to know Bob,  and to learn from him.  I’m hoping to participate on some level for the 2012 Solar Star Party at NEAF as well.  Bob’s been soliciting some help with imaging in this regard.

We were also honored to spend a lot of time with Dr. John Delano from the University of Albany. Dr. Delano presented at least 5 different presentations throughout the weekend.  Topics discussed ranged from Astro-biology, the Kepler Missions and the hunt for planets around other stars, Methods of Engaging younger students in studies associated to exoplanets, and comparing and contrasting our solar system to those that have been discovered so far.

I attended each of these talks – AND WOW!  I was just left staggering with information overload, and I was also stunned with inspiration at the end these talks.  I have pages and pages of notes to sift through, and I’m very seriously considering an in depth study of exoplanet studies as well as the study of our early solar system.  If you ever get the chance to see Dr. Delano present – I highly recommend it.  A very engaged and well-prepared journey to other planets is waiting for you.

Next up, the intriguing photographer Alan Friedman.  When I first met Alan , I first thought he was Dr. Joe Veverka form Cornell University.  How embarrassing.  I had seen Alan’s beautiful work for a few years now, but I had never seen a picture of the master himself.  About an hour later when I put all the pieces together – I laughed and blushed.  What a great honor it was, and I quickly observed that the man was just as intriguing as his photographs.

If you have never seen Alan’s photos – please do so now – they are utterly amazing!

Orange Sun Simmering (credit - A. Friedman - NASA APOD)
Orange Sun Simmering (credit – A. Friedman – NASA APOD)

Alan covered a great deal of his high level workflow for taking his images. This was quite interesting, and I learned quite a bit.  I had never been all that interested in web cam imaging before, but now – I’m very interested for sure.  Of course every photo of his is absolutely beautiful, and he is superb at his skill.  He covered how 90% of his success is in his processing workflow.  Down selecting to only worthwhile data, choosing color palettes which stimulate the senses and create the right contrast, and using overlays to allow the best possible picture of the Sun.

In addition to covering his processing technique, Alan also presented us with a photo story of his trip to Mount Wilson.  Although it would be something to be standing at such a historic place taking in the ambience of the amazing discoveries that occurred there, I’m fairly confident that I achieved more of an experience listening to Alan’s accounting of his journey!  A superb storyteller with stunning photographs!

I was able to sit with Alan for quite sometime, and he was a very personable fellow.  A real gentleman, a great story teller, and an avid amateur astronomer.    I’m very excited to have had such a great opportunity to learn more of this very talented astro-photographer, and very pleased to have gotten to know him some.

The final presenter was Doctor Joe Veverka from Cornell University. Dr. Veverka has a great history with respect to Solar System Investigation.  This includes his participation in a variety of missions, including Mariner 9, Viking, Voyager, Galileo, NEAR, Mars Observer, Mars Global Surveyor, Cassini, COUNTOUR, Stardust-Next, and others.  His “true” love is comets.

The presentation he awed us with covered cometary studies and the various missions which have been researching comets.  He was a very engaging speaker, and had a ton of information to share with us.  I also had the opportunity to share dinner with him and his wife.  Both have worked on a great many of the famous NASA missions. With this in mind, I was truly amazed with amount of thought and planning that needs to go into these missions.

Folks like Joe Veverka, his wife, Barlow Bob, Dr. John Delano, and Alan Friedman are the real rock stars that cut that edge of exploration, observation, science, discovery, awe and wonder every day.  And for all intensive purposes, these folks are much like you and I, you may even be watching them mow their lawns, and not even know it!  And I find it an honor that these folks live right around the corner from us here in NY, and I’m always amazed at all the work that is being done relatively locally in places like Cornell University, Albany University, a backyard in Buffalo, and anywhere the sun is shining.

None of my gear could be taken out of my car for AstroFest 2011, and that is never a good thing.  But what is better than just another night of observing some of the same old objects was the opportunity to meet such amazing individuals and to spend so much time getting to know them.  AstroFest 2011 kept the greatest story ever told going…




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