We are planning two weekend trips to Gatewood Campground near Spruce Knob, West Virginia this year. The first trip is scheduled for the weekend of June 3-4 and the second for July 29-30, weather permitting. Spruce Knob is situated in east central West Virginia and is about a 4 1/2 hour drive from the Washington area. The summit is 4,850 feet above sea level and is the highest point in West Virginia.
We plan to camp at Gatewood Campground, which is a few miles away and about 500 feet lower. A sheltered meadow adjacent to the camping area provides an excellent place to set up telescopes under skies with a limiting magnitude approaching 7 on a clear night.
There is no water or power at the seven-site campground, so remember to bring adequate food and water in addition to your camping gear. The site has two vault-type toilets. Although the Forest Service doesn't accept reservations for the sites, there is no charge to camp. Each site is limited to two vehicles and others might well be camping there, so we encourage folks to double up on each spot. If you arrive late and find that there are no more sites available at Gatewood, there should be some at Spruce Knob Lake Campground nearby. Camping off the road in the woods is also permitted throughout the National Forest. If you are unable to get a spot at Gatewood campground, it will probably be necessary either to leave your telescope set up on the meadow or pack it up at the end of each night's observing session.
The weather up on the mountain can be fickle, even in the summertime, so bring your cold weather gear. During a trip last year in late July we experienced a forty-degree drop in temperature during one twenty-four hour period. It pays to be prepared.
Look for more information concerning the trips on the NOVAC mailing list or contact Tom Dietz at email@example.com as the dates approach. Diehard observers are welcome to arrive early on Thursday and/or depart late on Monday if they wish. There are, however, no rain dates scheduled. Should either trip be cancelled, the membership will be notified via the mailing list.
The directions to Gatewood Campground are below:
On March 24-25, Kate (my significant other) and I visited "The Florida Imaging Center", which is run by the one and only Jack Newton. The FIC is an astronomy bed and breakfast located near the megametropolis of Chiefland Florida. It is one residence in a tract of astronomy-only observatory/homes called Chiefland Astronomy Village.
The B & B is ably run by Jack's wife Alice, who cheerfully adds to the enjoyment of your stay. Nice accommodations and a "killer entertainment center" keep you from getting antsy.
At first I was apprehensive about showing my vast body of ignorance of CCD imaging, but Jack allayed my concerns, assuring me that this was a fun experience with a learning by-product. After stuffing our faces with pizza at the local bistro, Jack opened his roll back roof observatory and we got down to business, while Kate and Alice watched TV and jawed. Since we were the only visitors, we had exclusive use of the 16" LX200.
First up was NGC 2903, a spiral galaxy in Leo, imaged 9 seconds for 5 exposures. Amazing what dark skies and a CCD can do. Next we took tricolor shots of the Eskimo nebula, and those old stand-bys, M51 and M42. The tricolor shots took up to 13 exposures. Processing on Maxim DL and a little clean up with Adobe gave us a satisfying group of objects.
The next day, Kate and I explored Cedar Key and went Manatee hunting. When we got back we had our pick of DVD movies while waiting for dark. Jack had to drag me kicking and screaming away from his 60" TV for our second observing night.
Dark Florida skies, great equipment and nice people-what more could
you want for an astronomy get away! See Jack's web site at www.jacknewton.com
or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like specifics.
There have been some big changes in the past month, changes that should help members and the public find and access NOVAC's club information. First, we have a new web site and club domain name. The previous http://astro.gmu.edu/~novac was difficult to remember. Now we are http://novac.com or http://novac.net. Simple and easy. We moved our site from GMU to a commercial provider that offers us easier access that should mean more frequent updates.
I would also like to take a second and thank John Wallin and Harold Geller from George Mason University for their support in letting us use their Astronomy Department's Internet facilities for our web site.
We also have a new information hotline: (703) 758-4455. In the
past we had used members home numbers for club hotlines. This was
a problem as numbers would periodically change as responsibilities for
the hot line changed. We now have a commercial number that should
be NOVAC's for a long while.
Reviewed by John Deriso
Availability: Discovery Channel Store or Sky Publishing
Requirements: PC or Mac with 2x CD-ROM.
There are lots of planetarium programs on the internet, some of them available as free downloads or demos. But as a beginner, about 1-1/2 years ago, I found this CD by Discovery Channel really easy to use and a big help in learning the sky; a nice step up from a planisphere. The program has plenty of features that follow the format of the two Nature Company Guide books (Skywatching and Advanced Skywatching) to explain clusters, nebulae, galaxies, and astronomy concepts to the novice.
The number of stars and deep-sky objects displayed can be adjusted with a "Clarify" slider control to match your viewing conditions. There's a "Zoom" slider to narrow or expand your field of view. I like the intuitive "direction" and "field of view" indicators which are based on compass direction (azimuth) and elevation. Grids for Alt/Az and RA/Dec can be toggled on or off, as well as an artificial horizon to help you get your bearings. Choose the city nearest your home, then the program shows the sky in real time, or it can be advanced to see "what's up" later. Menus let you find stars, Messier objects, planets, and the kids will like toggling the constellations between stick-figures and mythological outlines.
More info: from
Sky and Telescope Online.