Wednesday at the Fiftieth Annual Astronomical League Convention, 1997

 

The program started on Wednesday morning with a review of the Astronomical League's fifty year history. The Astronomical League came into existence when ten astronomical societies ratified the Bylaws drawn up by Charles Federer and Harlow Shapley. These two men had a dream that amateur astronomers all across the country would unite to create an infrastructure that would promote astronomical research by amateur astronomers.

The boom in amateur astronomy was the result of technology reaching the point where amateurs could obtain the materials to make their own telescopes in the 1920's and 30's. Add to that the books by Peltier and Ingalls on observing and telescope making, and you have an explosion in amateur astronomers. They naturally formed into local associations to share their interest in telescope making and observing. When the Astronomical League finally came into existence, the first two Regions were the Northeast and the Midwest.

While the Astronomical League was forming, two other national amateur astronomy organizations were also organizing. These were more focused on particular observing projects: the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) and the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO). Later, the International Occultation Timing Association and the International Amateur-Professional Photoelectric Photometrists (IAPPP) would also form to address other niche observing interests.

The Astronomical League has continued to grow since its founding in 1947. It now has over 13,500 members in 212 astronomical societies from across the whole United States. The Astronomical League continues to promote knowledge of the sky through its observing club awards: Messier, Hubble, Hubble II, Arp, Lunar, and more. These awards enhance an individual's knowledge of the constellations and build their observational skills.

Astronomy Day was promoted into a nationwide event by the Astronomical League after the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers invented it in the 1970s. It has now grown into an international event. Astronomy Day brings the universe to the non-astronomer while allowing astronomical societies to build their membership. The National Young Astronomer Award (NYAA) provides an opportunity to a youngster to demonstrate excellence in the science of astronomy and win a Meade LX200 (donated by Meade Instruments), and a lifetime observing pass to the McDonald Observatory.

Jim Fox (at left) talks to Barry BeamanThe League offers many other benefits both to the astronomical societies and to their members, including the Reflector, a national newsletter about Astronomical League and amateur astronomical events. The Astronomical League continues to flourish as it enters its second half-century.  After the talk ended, there was a panel discussion on the Astronomical League's history with Ed Halbach, Jim Fox (at right, talking to A.L. President Barry Beaman), and Chuck Allen.

The afternoon papers started with a talk on CHARA, the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy at Georgia State University by Dr. Harold McAlister, CHARA Director. The CHARA array they are attempting to build consists of five telescopes atop Mount Wilson in California. The project is designed to give high resolution images. The main targets are nearby stars and their planetary systems. They hope to actually see planets around other stars rather than just observing the wobble of the star.

Mobile Observatory and HerculesMr. Daniel W. Bakken talked on the construction of Hercules, a 41-inch reflector. It is the largest amateur telescope in the world. Next, former League President Jim Fox gave a presentation on a comet research program initially created for Comet Kohutek. This project entailed photography of a comet through specially selected color filters that emphasize certain aspects of a comet's makeup. Jim has applied the program to a number of comets over the years including Hale-Bopp, Halley, and IRIS-Aracki-Alcock.

Finally, Dr. Donald Parker, ALPO, told us about "Mars: Still a Planet of Mystery". Dr. Parker, known for his high resolution images of the planets, gave one of the funnier talks at the convention. He said we still need to observe Mars to help resolve the many mysteries about the planet. He also discussed the dust storm on Mars which occurred just a few days before the Mars Pathfinder landing.

Night brought a "at-your-own-risk" observing session at the Meyer-Womble Observatory high atop of Mount Evans. This binocular telescope was still not completed due to bad weather, but a few observers brought their own telescopes to the summit. The Observatory is located at 14,128 feet, making it the highest operating observatory in the world. The last five miles of the road to the Observatory was only a lane and a half wide with no guard rails. A slight mistake could lead to a 1500-foot fall!

Those who managed to drive up then had to contend with winds that averaged around 46 miles per hour, with peak gusts of 76 mph. This made the wind-chill -10-degrees F (and this is July?). The brave souls observed for a short while, and then headed back down that narrow road back to the resort.

 

 




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Read about Friday's events at ALCon '97.

Read about Saturday's events at ALCon '97.

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