Enchanted Skies

Dave Finley (public affairs officer for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory) gives a fireside talk during the 2002 Enchanted Skies Star Party

Dave Finley (public affairs officer for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory) gives a fireside talk during the 2002 Enchanted Skies Star Party

Last year we took our vacation in New Mexico. Along with hiking around Chaco Canyon, we decided to attend the Enchanted Skies Star Party, held each year in Socorro (about 70 miles south of Albuquerque). This is one of the most laid-back amateur astronomy get-togethers in the U.S. I almost hate to give it more publicity because I don’t want to see it become a huge thronging mass of people — but my more noble side wins out because I think it’s a great opportunity for folks to travel to a dark-sky site, hear some great talks, and see some great skies!

I’ve been to ESSP four or five times now and each time is a great experience. Twice I was offered the opportunity to give a science lecture, and the other times I just went for the sheer joy of it all. The lectures are all given at the New Mexico Tech campus and range from “getting started” type talks to presentations from astronomers about the latest in “Big Science.” The stargazing part of the party is divided up between the campus observatory and a ranch area about 20 miles out of town. In both cases, the skies are wonderful and the stargazing is a lot of fun.

The Saturday night barbecue and sing-along under the stars is a big hit. Last year we stayed out until about midnight before heading back to the hotel, but many folks lingered on until the very wee hours, sucking in that big, dark, wonderful sky. If you’re looking for something to do that’s different, gets you to someplace you haven’t been before, and want some sublime memories of scenery and dark sky, this is the star party for you. I just got a mailing from the organizers and it looks like this year’s meeting will be as great as 2002’s was! Check it out!

Mars Mania, Part N

In an earlier entry I alluded to the fruit loops who come out of the woodwork whenever there’s an astronomy-related event that could be exploited for some sort of new-agey gain. Today on CNN I read that sooth-sayers around the world are claiming Mars’s influence on Earth means something bad will happen in America very soon. As the teen-agers like to say, “Wull duh… ”

Chances are with a prediction that broad, when tomorrow’s news from the U.S. comes on the TV, these mystic gurus will throw their hands up in glee and say, “See, I told you so… ” (with the unspoken line being: “now give me your money or your soul (or both)”). Well, you have to laugh — these folks have found a lovely way to get followers (and presumably money and fame and sex and whatever else it is they want) by exploiting naturally occurring events in the sky. It’s lovely work, but is it quite honest? Good question. Think about it the next time you’re out there looking at the stars…