In Fuller’s Pasture, a convention of cosmic proportions
Amateur astronomer and Springfield Stars Club member Kaitlynn Goulette, 6, of Westfield peers through a telescope at the 32nd annual Connecticut River Valley Astronomers' Conjunction on Saturday at Northfield Mountain. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
Crystal Mengele peers through her Celestron NexStar telescope at the 32nd annual Connecticut River Valley Astronomers' Conjunction on Saturday at Northfield Mountain. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHFIELD — As a thick layer of fog began to roll over the ground of Fuller’s Pasture at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, the twinkling of about a dozen red lights could be seen in the night, darting up and down, left and right, between an equal number of parked cars.
As the crimson lights swung back and forth and one’s eyes began to adjust to the pitch black landscape, the tubular forms of various types of telescopes began to take form. Each pointed upward toward a different patch of stars in the Milky Way galaxy that expanded above, covering the field like a dome.
Next to a red truck with a license plate that read “CSTARS,” Steve Hubbard of Auburn made a few adjustments to various rings along the neck of his enormous refractor telescope.
To preserve his night vision, he used a red LED headlamp to examine the knobs and dials of a focusing remote. On his iPad, he pulled up a star chart, also backlit with red light.
“Ah, there we go, take a look,” said Hubbard, as Northfield resident Bob Dickerman took a seat on the viewing bench. “That’s M-13 there, it looks like a bunch of stars clustered tight together. It’s called a globular cluster.”
That cluster of stars, known formally as Messier 13, is 23,000 light-years away, said Hubbard, who’d come and set up his telescope as part of the 32nd annual Connecticut River Valley Astronomer’s Conjunction, held in Northfield this past Friday and Saturday.
“The light that you’re seeing from those stars left 23,000 years ago,” he continued. Next up was Dickerson’s son, Chris.
After viewing the cluster, Hubbard demonstrated how he was able to pinpoint that particular cluster of stars using his knowledge of constellations and star charts, then demonstrated by swinging the telescope around and focusing on the Andromeda galaxy, the Milky Way’s nearest galactic neighbor at nearly 2.5 million light-years away.
Richard Sanderson, the curator of physical science at the Springfield Science Museum and one of the event’s organizers, said The Conjunction attracts amateur and professional astronomers from all over New England.
According to Sanderson, he founded the convention in 1982 along with co-organizers Dave Gallup, Jack Megas, Ron Woodlund, Phil Harrington and Donna Szaban, as a stargazing and public education event with the goal of “introducing new people to the night sky.” It was modeled after Vermont-based astronomy convention Stellafane, which Sanderson said attracts thousands of astronomy buffs.
“Ours is a bit smaller than that — it never has more than 100 people — but people who come say they like that aspect,” Sanderson said.
Over the years, Sanderson said, the event has featured talks by many well-known astronomers and authors. This year’s convention featured lectures about performing astronomy at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii by John Sillasen and astrophotography by photographers Al Takeda and Tim Connolly and viewing satellites by Rich Nugent, a chemistry teacher at Framingham High School.
Woodlund and Stellafane telescope judge Dave Kelly gave a talk about the life and legacy of telescope designer John Dobson, who was known for inventing the Dobsonian Telescope and who died in January.
The keynote address, entitled “Navigating Our Milky Way Galaxy,” was delivered by William H. Waller, Ph.D., a high school physical science teacher in Rockport who has worked with NASA on several space and science research missions and education programs. Waller also wrote the 2013 book “The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide.”
During the day on Saturday, convention attendees set up telescopes with special filters that allow for the safe viewing of the Sun as part of a Solar Star Party in memory of “Barlow Bob” Godfrey, a long-time Conjunction guest known for his mastery of the practice, who died earlier this year.
Sanderson said that Northfield was chosen as the convention’s location due to its easily accessible location and perfect conditions for viewing the Milky Way.
Tony Costanzo, a telescope builder from Plaistow, N.H., said he comes to the convention for the camaraderie.
“Coming out and being with these people, they’re all like family; all of us have got to know each other over the years,” said Costanzo. “It’s an event to look at the beauty of the sky and share it with friends.”