During the Memorial Day weekend, I attended the first StarLight Festival hosted by the Astronomy Outreach Network. It took place in the Village of Big Bear Lake, California. I thought it rocked, and here are 25 reasons why (in no particular order).
At the 2014 StarLight Festival, not only could you see meteorites, but you also could touch one. // All photos: Michael E. Bakich
1) The location. Big Bear Lake sits 6,772 feet (2,064 meters) above sea level. It’s beautiful.
2) The weekend’s weather: temperatures in the 70s and clear throughout.
3) This event was for the general public. That means families and kids felt comfortable.
4) There was a lot to see. More than 50 telescope and equipment manufacturers set up displays. A few were quite large.
5) The organization and scheduling were spot on. And, remember, this was the first time this event was held. Kudos go to event organizer Scott Roberts and his team. Nice job, Scotty!
More than 800 kids decorated their own Saturn made from a blank compact disc and two halves of a pingpong ball.
6) Rocks from space still, umm, rock. Astronomy Contributing Editor Mike Reynolds and his wife offered meteorites, tektites, impactites, and related jewelry for sale. Their booth had a constant stream of interested customers visiting it. People bought chunks of the Chelyabinsk meteorite, the Moon, and even Mars!
7) This incarnation of the StarLight Festival was dedicated to the memory of John Dobson, the legendary inventor of the Dobsonian mount for reflecting telescopes.
8) More than a dozen properly filtered telescopes provided by manufacturers allowed visitors to view the Sun during both days.
9) Astronaut Story Musgrave’s talk about space exploration. The six-time space shuttle traveler is both entertaining and informative.
10) This event was FREE! Maybe I should have mentioned this first.
11) Pepsi stepped up as the main sponsor of the StarLight Festival. This corporation saw the benefit in funding a public educational event and provided most of the money required to promote it, host it, and allow visitors totally free access.
12) Noted astroimager Wally Pacholka’s art was on display throughout the event. You can read our highly illustrated profile of him in the August 2012 issue of Astronomy.
Visitors went crazy for meteorite and related jewelry. This booth was swamped both days.
13) The STEM Zone — a tent dedicated to students and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. Kids of all ages built their own Saturns or planetary landers. Others learned about impact cratering, robots, and meteorites (and even some “meteorwrongs”).
14) Nobody starved. Food and drink carts abounded, and several restaurants were within a two-minute walk.
15) Visitors learned all about the importance of dark skies at the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) booth, which was right next to Astronomy’s. IDA’s Executive Director, Scott Kardel, spoke to hundreds of people about proper lighting.
16) I got to chat with several manufacturers about conducting reviews of their latest equipment. Look for these stories in upcoming issues of Astronomy.
17) The hotel that hosted the event, the Northwoods Resort and Conference Center, did a terrific job. Every employee I talked to — from main desk staff to employees who were manning the gates to parking — were both pleasant and helpful.
18) Both nights until 11 p.m. (and actually a bit later in a couple cases), visitors had great views of celestial objects through nearly 30 telescopes large and small. OK, not so small.
19) People love Astronomy magazine. As I sat at our booth giving out free copies of the June issue, How to Buy Your First Telescope, and Welcome to Astronomy, those people who were familiar with us shared with me some of the recent stories they liked.
Astronomy provided a total of more than 5,000 issues and special booklets. And I gave away each and every one of them!
20) Lots of new people got their first taste of Astronomy magazine. “Really? They’re all free?” I heard that a lot. That’s pretty much why we were at the festival. On two occasions, people came up in the afternoon who had picked up magazines in the morning. Both said they had read through some of the issue during lunch and couldn’t believe how cool it was. That is cool!
21) Big Bear Solar Observatory, located nearby, offered tours of the facility to those visitors fortunate enough to pick up a FREE ticket at their booth.
22) They had a Moon rock! Yep, and an armed guard stood near it throughout the entire festival. Actually, there were several guards who worked in shifts.
23) Roberts and his team got the word out. Everyone in town knew where the StarLight Festival was happening.
24) People could touch a large meteorite. Other meteorites of various types from all over the world were on view in several cases.
25) People had fun! Throughout the two days, I asked lots of visitors to the festival if they were having fun. Every one of them said yes, and went on to describe some enjoyable activity.