The region’s annual opportunity to get a guided tour of the heavens rolls around for the 20th year on Saturday, Aug. 11, thanks to the ChesMont Astronomical Society.
Barring cloud-cover, that’s when the 20th annual Starfest will be held at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site from 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.
The program will feature speakers, astronomy presentations and activities for kids.
Public viewing of the wonders of the Milky Way will be available through more than 20 amateur, high-end telescopes.
The highlight of the evening is Ten Object Row. Ten of society members’ telescopes will be focused on a different deep sky object so the public can get a look at a variety of rarely seen astronomical objects.
Admission and parking is free, but donations are needed to support the event.
The rain/cloud date is Sunday, Aug. 12. Should the entire weekend be a washout, the back-up date is the Aug. 18 or Aug. 19, although the keynote speaker won’t be available at the later dates.
This year’s keynote speaker is Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer and director of the Fels Planetarium at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
He was also Starfest’s first keynote speakers 19 years ago, according to Robert Cordivari, Starfest co-chairman.
For more than two decades, Pitts has hosted award-winning astronomy radio programs for Philadelphia’s two public radio stations and created signature astronomy television programming for PBS.
“The first year, we had our members give the talks but the next year, I suggested a guest speaker and I suggested Derrick. When we called, he said ‘your timing is perfect’ because he used to do live radio broadcasts of star parties on WHYY and he came out here and did ours,” Cordivari recalled.
“He came out that year with David Levy, who discovered the comet that broke up and smashed into Jupiter a few years ago,” Cordivari said.
This year, Pitts will attempt to broadcast his talk live on Facebook.
Pitts has been a NASA Solar System Ambassador since 2009 and serves as the “Astrobiology Ambassador” for the NASA/MIRS/UNCF Special Program Corporation’s Astrobiology Partnership Program.
He was recently appointed to the outreach advisory board for the world’s largest telescope, the new 30-Meter-Telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
He has been named as one of the 50 most important African-Americans in research science.
“He’s a major player in the astronomy community,” Cordivari said of Pitts.
One of the highlights of his career was meeting President Obama and his family when Pitts was invited to participate in the first-ever White House Star Party.
Pitts is a graduate of Germantown Academy St. Lawrence University, and has received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from La Salle University and Rowan University College of Mathematics and Science.
His twitter handle is @CoolAstronomer and his motto is “Eat, breathe, do science. Sleep later.”
Cordivari said Starfest events typically attract between 400 to 600 people and he can not remember the event being washed out by weather more than twice in 20 years.
The biggest turn out was in 2003 when more than 2,000 people showed up at Warwick County Park for the Starfest that featured Mars being nearer to Earth than it had been in between 50,000 and 60,000 years.
But more often, Starfest features objects in the night sky that are much further away. And that’s why Starfest is so informative, because club members with large, sophisticated telescopes are each focused in a different far away object, from a nebula to a “globular cluster.”
“You can see objects that you never saw before,” said Cordivari.
In fact, that’s how Cordivari got started 25 years ago when he joined the club, which was founded in 1987.
“I always had an interest in astronomy and then I saw an announcement in the paper one day that the ChesMont Astronomical Society was having a star party at French Creek State Park, which is right around the corner from me,” he said.
“After that night, I was hooked,” said Cordivari, explaining how the members helped him along, starting with binoculars. “I learned the night sky, the constellations and I learned how to increase my observation skills. When I was ready to buy my first telescope, they talked me through it.”
In addition to the star parties, the group of about 35 meets monthly, on the Sunday evening closest to the full moon, at 7 p.m. at the Crow’s Nest Preserve in Warwick Township.
“We focus on three things, observation, public outreach and light pollution awareness,” Cordivari said. “We do star parties every month, rotating between French Creek and Marsh Creek state parks, and we’ve taken some further out, including an annual trip to West Virginia which is one of the darkest places on the East Coast.”
The annual Starfest events, though, are where the group gets to enlighten the most people about the heavens.
“We’re really very proud of it,” Cordivari said.
Here is a schedule of the evening’s events:
• 5:30 p.m. — Gates Open (Solar observing if clear)
• 6 p.m. — Kids Corner Educational Activities
• 7 p.m. — Opening Remarks
• 7:30 p.m. — James Aguirre, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania
• 8:15 p.m. — Keynote Speaker Derrick Pitts
• 9:15 p.m. Drawing of the Grand Prize followed by public stargazing through amateur telescopes.
More information about the program is available by calling Hopewell at 610-582-8773, ext. 0, or visiting the Chesmont Astronomical Society website at www.chesmontastro.org or on Facebook at Chesmont Astronomical Society observing+
The following first appeared as a post in The Digital Notebook blog.