Besides serving as a meeting of the minds for local amateur astronomers, Starfest was organized to "educate the public" according to society member Rob Cordivari. He emphasizes, "We want people to share our enthusiasm and let them know that the night sky is just as beautiful as during the day." Now in its fourth year, Star Fest attracts an average of 500 people, each one curious about the mysteries of the heavens. The summer sky as viewed from Warwick Park affords a magnificent view of the Milky Way, our galaxy, which many people have never seen.
Cordivari feels that such curiosity is the ultimate reaction once people discover what astronomy is really about and that people are attracted to events like Star Fest for a number of different reasons. On one level, people are naturally attracted to the night sky because it is often breathtaking to view. Scientifically, many people are then led to questions such as "what is the universe made of?" and "what is our place in it." However, there is also a spiritual element to astronomy. Those who are spiritual in nature are curious about their own role in the universe and like to tackle the tough question of "what does it all mean?" Most importantly, Cordivari stresses, "astronomy
turns kids on to science."
Accordingly, there was something for everyone in attendance at Friday's Starfest. As a beautiful sunset unfolded, Dr. Larry DeWarf, a professor of astronomy at Villanova University, which houses the largest undergraduate-only Astronomy program in the country, kicked off the nightlong festivities. He gave a fascinating presentation on "young stellar objects," which refers to stars and/or planets in the process of forming. The fact that stars were born was not even know until the 1940s when astronomers began discovering clouds of dust, or nebulas.
Since then, astronomers have deduced that these clouds condense to make stars and, quite possibly, planets. Dr. DeWarf has been observing the star named SU Aurigae for ten years looking for evidence of planet formation.
It is not known whether or not planets and stars form together or separately, but Dr. DeWarf believes he may be hot on the trail. "We can directly image some of the larger planets, which are many times larger than Jupiter, outside of our solar system and it wasn't too long ago that there was no evidence of other planets at all," he emphasizes.
When asked how such a study affects the general public, DeWarf grins and answers that scientists will be better able to evaluate the conditions that might allow life to form or exist on other planets. "If all stars form dozens of planets, then there might be life forming other places in the universe," DeWarf hypothesizes, "We are on the cusp of many things in astronomy."
Other activities included the raffling off of prizes, such as binoculars and a meteorite, and the grand prize of a large reflector telescope. Karl Krasley, the president of the Chesmont Astronomical Society, also gave a slide presentation outlining what participants would be seeing later in the evening and tackling the problem of light pollution, a phenomena that occurs when outdoor lighting illuminates the sky above itself more than the ground that it is supposed to be illuminating.
By showing a map of the night sky over the United States, he illustrated that we waste $2-billion in energy at night because lights are often improperly positioned or installed. For this reason, Krasley has formed the Pennsylvania Outdoor Lighting Council, a proactive group that makes recommendations for light ordinances to municipalities and then helps them enact such laws. Krasley believes that less light pollution means better visibility at night and a generally safer environment, as well as saving money.
Rob Cordivari agrees, "This event [Starfest] is important to educate the general public on light pollution. If we lose our skies, where else will we go now? We need to preserve what we have."
Of course, the main event of the night was stargazing and despite a slightly cloudy sky at the onset of the evening, participants of all ages and all levels of astronomical knowledge witnessed the astonishing power of the night sky.
Whether it was seeing our galaxy for the first time through the lens of a high-powered telescope or simply reveling with the naked eye in the magnitude of constellations such as the Big Dipper, everyone who attended this year's Star Fest could not have left empty-handed.
Anyone interested in scheduling a star party or presentation, or learning more about the Chesmont Astronomical Society or how to become a member, can visit the society's website at www.chesmontastro.org or join them on the third Sunday of every month at 7 p.m. when they meet at either the Welkinweir barn of the Green Valleys Association at 1368 Prizer Road, just south of the intersectin of routes 100 and 23 or at the Great Valley Nature Center located on Route 29 in Charlestown Township.