The stars at night were big and bright when the Astronomical League gathered this month in Arlington, Texas. The meeting, dubbed ALConEXPO 2006, was held August 4–5, 2006, and attracted about 150 amateur astronomers who came to hear speakers, talk about the Astronomical League’s activities, enjoy star parties, and marvel at the nearby Oscar Monnig Meteorite Gallery at Texas Christian University.
Although it was a small meeting by past standards, the event was packed with energy. The facilities at the University of Texas at Arlington were terrific, the food surprisingly good, and the company top-notch. The great facilities allowed the convention-goers to enjoy themselves inside, away from the temperatures that typically hit 106° F during the afternoon.
The talks spanned a great range of topics. Bob Gent, the outgoing president of the League, described the state of the light pollution battle and his voluminous activities in the International Dark Sky Association. Astronomy author Robert Reeves of San Antonio, Texas, told viewers about his spectacular webcam imaging. Another of our contributors, Jason Ware of Plano, Texas, described his high-resolution CCD imaging of deep-sky objects. Barbara Wilson of Houston spoke about the value of careful observing at the limit of one’s perception, and the amazing deep-sky objects that can be viewed “at the edge.” Kelly Beatty, editor of Night Sky magazine, described his vision of the future of amateur astronomy, while I recounted tales and developments of the past 30 years of the hobby. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Marni Berendsen spoke about exciting kids and non-astronomers with the upcoming transit of Mercury, and Fritz Benedict of the University of Texas described his searches for exoplanets.
The Monnig Meteorite Gallery was breathtaking. Housed in an impressive, modern facility on the TCU campus, showcased in well-lighted cabinets, the collection boasts fine examples of a whole spectrum of meteorites — from Millbillillie to Brenham to Lost City to Tishomingo. Excellent examples of martian and lunar meteorites are on display, including a slice of Mars visitors can touch. The extensive room devoted to Texas meteorites is notable too. Monnig, a Fort Worth businessman who died in 1999, assembled a collection of spectacular breadth.
All who attended the meeting enjoyed it greatly, and only the heat prevented further exploration of Arlington, the entertainment-soaked vicinity between Dallas and Fort Worth that hosts the Texas Rangers and the Six Flags over Texas amusement park. On the way in, however, I did spend part of a day in Dealey Plaza and at the Sixth Floor Museum in downtown Dallas, remembering JFK. I was surprised at how much smaller it is than I had imagined. The distance between the School Book Depository window and Elm Street below seemed sadly, tragically, small, and the ghosts of that day in 1963 remarkably fresh.