Northfield convention welcomes casual astronomers

  • A long exposure of a star-filled sky off of route 10 in Deerfield. Recorder/Matt Burkhartt Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

NORTHFIELD — One of the few amateur astronomy conventions in western Massachusetts will be held at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center this weekend.

The Astronomy Conjunction, now in its 36th consecutive year, generally draws at least 70 people, most of them from western Massachusetts, said co-founder Richard Sanderson. The conjunction is not a scientific symposium, he said, and the organizers welcome families and people casually interested in astronomy.

“A lot of us live in the city, so we don’t get to see the Milky Way often, but from there, we will,” Sanderson said.

The main parts of the conjunction are the observation sessions on Friday and Saturday night at Northfield Mountain, which are free and open to the public. Many attendees bring telescopes, Sanderson said, but those who don’t have their own can share with others.

The conjunction begins Friday night with dinner at the Wagon Wheel in Gill at 6 p.m. Many attendees camp out Friday and Saturday night at Barton Cove.

While the sun is up on Saturday, there will be a “Solar Star Party,” where attendees will use specially filtered telescopes to observe sunspots and other solar phenomena, Sanderson said.

There is also a program of talks scheduled throughout Saturday. In the first, set for 10 a.m., Sanderson will talk about his 10 favorite astronomical events in his 50 years of observing.

“It kind of demonstrates what can be seen in an average person’s lifetime,” he said.

Sanderson said the idea came to him in April, the 50th anniversary of the his first solar eclipse on Good Friday of 1968. Since then, he has seen two of the seven Venus transits in recorded history, where “the sun and the Earth are lined up just right and Venus looks like a big black silhouette in front of the sun.” That won’t happen again for another 100 years, he said. His list also includes the 2004 solar eclipse that happened while the Red Sox won the World Series and last summer’s total eclipse.

Saturday’s program also includes a talk by conjunction co-founder Phil Harrington on the next eclipse, which will be visible from New England in 2024; and an evening talk by University of Massachusetts Astronomy Professor Grant Wilson on the Large Millimeter Telescope, a telescope that uses radio waves rather than optical lenses to examine wavelengths of light that are normally invisible to humans.

On Saturday afternoon, attendees will be able to see optician Dave Kelly’s Dobsonian Telescope. The Dobsonian Telescope, Sanderson explained, became popular in the 1980s because it could be made out of plywood and cardboard but was powerful. Kelly’s telescope, which he showed at last year’s Stellafane, a telescope convention in Vermont, uses the Dobsonian design but with precision machinery.

“It’s a piece of art,” Sanderson said. “It’s spectacular.”

Admission to the observation sessions on Friday and Saturday night is free, but admission for the programs is $30 for the whole day and free for kids 17 and under. Registration forms are available at: philharrington.net/astroconjunction The Saturday evening buffet dinner is $25 for adults and $15 for kids 14 and under.

Attendees are asked to bring flashlights with red filters to the nighttime observation sessions, so as not to disturb the viewing.