Stellafane 2019 by Guest Host: Glenn Chaple

I had a nice time at Stellafane this year. Made it a brief day trip, as I brought my brother Bob with me and he’s not into astronomy like me. His wife died a month ago and I thought a Stellafane visit would get his mind off things for awhile.

We arrived at Breezy Hill around 11am and immediately went to the swap table. It was pretty well cleared out by this time and I wasn’t really in the mood for astro-goodies anyway. Amazingly, I found a guy who, besides astro gear, was selling brand-new fishing rods for just $10 each. Bob had broken his rod when we went fishing last weekend, so I bought him one as an early birthday present. That alone made the trip worthwhile!

Most of the day, I showed him around the Stellafane grounds and introduced him to friends I meet each time I go there. Among them was Sue French and her husband Al. I congratulated her on her success in taking over the “Deep Sky Wonders” column in Sky and Telescope.

The weather was surprisingly nice, despite predictions of afternoon showers. As darkness approached, I set up my 4.5-inch Orion Dob in the observing field next to ATMoB member Steve Clougherty’s 18-inch scope.

Roger Ivester:  You’ll be proud of me.  I took your advice about observing future Observer’s Challenge objects and viewed the July, 2021, target NGC 6572 – a PN in Ophiuchus. I checked it out first in Steve’s scope, then with the 4.5-inch, making a sketch using that scope. There was enough haze to add some murk to the normally clear and dark Stellafane skies, so Steve and I showed Bob a few showpieces – Jupiter and Saturn, some bright doubles (beta Sco, Mizar, and Albireo through my scope), and M3 through the 18-inch before Bob and I left Breezy Hill at 10:30pm.

Bob didn’t become an addicted backyard astronomer after his Stellafane trip, but he did enjoy himself. As he told my friends there, he came because he wanted to see what this place I constantly talk about is like,​ and he was impressed by the scenery and the camaraderie.

James Mullaney:  To answer your questions:

Camping areas are scattered all around Stellafane East. Stellafane West is the heart of the convention and is comprised of the pink clubhouse and Porter Turrett Telescope and is the site of the telescope-making competition. Stellafane East was added after the 1980s when the farmer who let us use a field near the clubhouse as a camping area died, and his sons wanted to use the area to build condos. They were thwarted when the Springfield Telescope Makers had the Stellafane site designated as a national historical site. In spite, the farmer’s family turned the field into a Christmas tree farm, but the Springfield Club was able to purchase nearby acres, and -voila!- Stellafane East. There isn’t a banquet pre se. A local vendor sets up a large tent and seating area, and lobster and chicken dinners are served (ordered in advance when registering for Stellafane). Hot dogs, hamburgers, and Italian sausage grinders are also offered. In its heyday, about 2000 people would attend the Stellafane Convention. I didn’t ask for a count, but those of us there estimated perhaps as much as a thousand.

I’ve attached two pictures which I took at Stellafane. The first is the view you get when you leave the wooded trail leading up to the clubhouse and reach the clearing at the top of Breezy hill.

Each year I come to Stellafane, I take a shot of this view, then take individual shots of the telescopes entered in the competition (didn’t “shoot” the scopes this year).

In the pic is the pink clubhouse and the Porter Turret Telescope. Back in 1996, I notified the Springfield Telescope Makers that September was the 50th anniversary of Walter Scott Houston’s first “Deep Sky Wonders” column in Sky and Telescope. Sadly, the magazine didn’t mention the fact. Scotty was a regular at Stellafane and, in appreciation, they invited me to join them on Breezy Hill on a clear September evening. What a difference from the clamoring crowds! It was just me and a few dozen club members. We used the Turret Telescope to view the objects Scotty had featured in that September, 1946, column. M11, M27, and M57. The real thrill came when we turned to the moon for a close-up view of Clavius Crater. A large crater invading its wall was named after Porter. Imagine looking at Porter Crater through a telescope designed (and possibly worked on) by the man it was named for!

The second photo shows me and Bob standing in front of the pink clubhouse. The guy in the red T-shirt and white cap to my right is Phil Harrington who has written several backyard astronomy guides and is the binocular columnist for Astronomy. I told him and the guys sitting next to him (friends who run the Astronomer’s Conjunction Convention in Northfield, MA) that they didn’t need to move. I’d just Photoshop them out of the picture!

A final observation. I walked the entire half mile up and down the wooded path to the clubhouse with no difficulty at all – a good sign that my heart has improved over its condition during the previous two  years.

Clear Skies,

Glenn Chaple

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