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Fifty-First Annual Astronomical League Convention, 1998

The 1998 Astronomical League Convention (ALCon) was held in southern Indiana at the French Lick Springs Resort. This year's convention was co-hosted by the Louisville (KY) Astronomical Society and Evansville (IN) Astronomical Society. The Resort is located in the now out-of-the-way town of French Lick Springs. The convention ran from Wednesday, July ALCon 98 Logo21, 1998 through Saturday, July 25, 1998.

The French Lick Springs Resort was built in the early 1900s, over a hot mineral spring. The hydrogen sulfide smell given off by the water from the spring convinced people that bathing in the water must be good for them -- anything that smelled that bad HAD to be good for you. So the well-heeled of the time would come to bath in the waters and to provide them with the comforts to which they had become accustomed, the French Lick Springs Resort was constructed.

The rooms are generally very nice, but central air conditioning is something that would not become standard in any building for many decades. The weather was some of the hottest of the summer, with temperatures in the 90s and dewpoints in the upper 60s. For those coming from Texas, this was a relief, with the temperatures in that area well into the 100s!

French Lick SpringsFrench Lick Springs Resort is set on a tree-laden estate that provides attendees with many varied activities. Walks around the hotel gardens will lead you past the famous gazebo which houses the mineral water springs. Each turn in the garden path reveals more color and a relaxing atmosphere. Horseback Riding will allow you to experience the many scenic trail. In fact, there are more than 30 miles of trails to explore. If the weather was not so good, there was a retractable glass-domed, Olympic-sized pool that gave plenty of splash room day and night.

The Recreation Center provided a bowling alley with 6 full-sized lanes video games and other things to keep people amused. For tIndiana Railway Museumhose in need of a little pampering, The Spa would allow you to reduce your stress level and improve your spirits. They offered such indulgences as aromatherapy, facials, manicures, pedicures, reflexology, body massage, styling salon, sauna, whirlpool and even seaweed wrap. For those who wanted to be a little more active, there were exercise classes and professional exercise equipment available.

Other activities available on site included tennis, golfing, mountain bike riding, and surrey rides. Patoka Lake, just a few minutes away provided an ideal spot for fishing. Boats were available for charter excursions, or you could fish from the shore. If you were a train buff, the Indiana Railway Museum is at the north edge of the Resort. Build on the old track leading to the Resort and sporting the original French Lick Springs Station, this museum provides a look at antique railway equipment. They run a short-line trolley car to the West Baden Springs Resort, and twice a week run an excursion through the nearby Hoosier National Forest.

The Gazebo-source of the mineral springs

The whole focus of the Resort, however, is the Mineral Springs.  The source of the mineral springs has been enclosed by "The Gazebo". Inside, you can enjoy the aroma of hydrogen sulfide. At one time the spring filled the inner part of the gazebo, but now the mineral water flows to a plant where the water is stored. The mineral water, branded as "Pluto Water" is most famous for its use as a laxative. Hence the slogan visible in the Gazebo "When nature won't. Pluto will."

One of the most important places in the early resort was the outhouses, indoor plumbing not having come into existence yet. When you needed the outhouse, you would talk a walking stick out with you, and lean it against the outside of the outhouse to show that it was in use. It was the height of unacceptablility to return to the Resort without your walking stick -- especially if there was a line waiting for the next available outhouse.

French Lick Springs is a wonderful place to visit and a great place to hold a national convention. Everyone had a good time, but the best part was the great speakers presenting during the convention:

Wednesday had talks about the energy production by fusion in the H-bomb versus the Sun, and then on the techniques of rri-color CCD imaging. In the afternoon there was a talk on wide-field spectroscopy. This talk featured an instrument that could be built by amateurs to make spectrograms of the brighter celestial objects. The final talk was by Professor Warren Stephenson, who spoke on "Elemental Stability and Nucleosythesis".  That night there was an observing session at nearby Patoka Lake.

Thursday started with a talk on computer-aided variable star observing . When thenl took a "Walkabout" of the universe, stopping at the various signposts on the sky. The lunch was followed by the keynote address given by J. Richard Gott III on time travel through wormholes. Dr. Gott had studied this subject in professional papers he had written. The afternoon papers session started with Dr. Suketu Bhavsar discussing "Einstein's Universe, Escher's Art" and how the two have many parallels. Alan Goldstein finished out the day with a talk on "Advanced Observing Skills". The evening started witht the Star-B-Que on the front lawn of the resort. Afterward, Jack Horkheimer entertained us with early computer-generated films illustrating various astronomical principles.

Friday morning was allocated to multi-track workshops. They all started and ended at the same time so you could pick the ones in which you wanted to participate. The afternoon a public out-reach session with speakers aiming at a less technical and more general science level. "Popullution" was the first talk on overpopulation, pollution, and chemistry. Jack Horkheimer was next, telling us about the "Comet that Killed Cleopatra" and the role comets have played throughout history. Astronaut F. Storey Musgrave finished up the public outreach session with "An Artist's View of the Universe".

Saturday was back to astronomy with a talk on retrofitting modern electronics to an older Boller and Chivens mount. We then learned about the Deep Space 2 microprobe to the Martian surface. Manned visits to Mars was the final topic before lunch. Afterward, we heard about ALCon 1999 and then a very minor meteor shower called the Virginids. When then heard about "Extreme Stars" and then the National Young Astronomer Award winner Mary Dombrowski told us about her study of the cataclysmic variable IP Pegasi. After dinner awards were presented and then F. Storey Musgrave related the hazards and thrills of the "HST Repair Mission".

Returning from orbit, the Fifty-First Annual Convention of the Astronomical League came to an end. Next year the Astronomical League will reconvene in Spokane, Washington for their Fifty-Second Annual Convention.

The Group Photo


Read about Wednesday's events at ALCon '98.

Read about Thursday's events at ALCon '98.

Read about Friday's events at ALCon '98.

Read about Saturday's events at ALCon '98.

Return to the Astronomical League Convention Page.

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