On the road: ALCON 2011, Day 1

Posted by David Eicher
on Saturday, July 02, 2011

On Friday, July 1, I enjoyed my first full day at ALCON 2011, the annual convention of the Astronomical League. The first such ALCON I attended was way back in 1978 in Madison, Wisconsin, and it was where I met Richard Berry, then Astronomy’s editor, for the first time.

Bryce Canyon National Park is legendary for its spectacular, eroded rock formations. // All photos by David J. Eicher
This year features ultra-dark-sky observing at Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah, where the naked-eye limit is mind-bogglingly faint. Some 250 amateur astronomers have flocked here to enjoy the observing, talks by various amateur astronomers, and socializing over dinners and lunches that feature a western-chuckwagon type of atmosphere.


Friday's talks were terrific and featured a cross-section of interests for all backyard skywatchers. Shane Larson of Utah State University described what astronomers know about globular clusters, exploring their physical properties, evolution, and meaning. Following lunch, Arne Henden, director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, delivered a detailed talk on the organization’s history, given in its centennial year. Despite mega-survey projects on the horizon (cranking up with the first Pan-STARRS telescope in Hawaii already), Henden sees a bright future for amateur contributions to science ahead, as professionals will be too busy to follow up with the massive firehose of data.

The vendor display area at ALCON on Friday morning, July 1, bustles with activity.
Popular writer, frequent Astronomy magazine contributor, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Steve Edberg described life lessons in observing whether the targets be nearby objects like atmospheric phenomena, solar system events, or deep-sky objects. It was a highly entertaining presentation. And Vern Raben, the League’s webmaster and president of the Longmont Astronomical Society, described imaging meteors with all-sky cameras.


The vendor displays were active, with Celestron and Explore Scientific occupying prominent positions in the vendor display area and surrounded by two dozen other organizations and companies.

On Friday evening following the Star-B-Que, ALCON organizers shot a group photo of all the attendees who were present for the evening festivities.
Many old friends of amateur astronomy, of Astronomy magazine, and of past meetings were on hand, with this strong showing of 250. The world’s leading discoverer of comets, Carolyn Shoemaker, was vibrant and energetic as she reminisced about the past, at age 81. Brent Archinal of the U.S. Geological Survey and his wife JoAnne were all smiles as they talked about old times. Steve and Sue Rismiller from the Cincinnati Astronomical Society were on hand and reminded me about activities going on in southern Ohio, where I first became enamored with the skies. Many important personalities of the Astronomical League were basking in the success of this year’s meeting, from President Carroll Iorg to past president Terry Mann to League mainstays Jackie Beucher, Ed Flaspoehler, Derald Nye, Barry and Carol Beaman, and many others.


It was a terrific day that concluded with dark-sky observing under terrific skies. I’ll continue reporting from the meeting tomorrow, and you can check out photos of people and activities at ALCON 2011 by checking out the Online Reader Gallery.

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