Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions2018-04-12T12:35:42-04:00
Who, What, Where, When and Why?2019-04-15T21:26:36-04:00

The Almost Heaven Star Party will be held Friday-Tuesday, August 30 – September 3, 2019, at the Experience Learning (formerly TMI) in Spruce Knob, WV. AHSP is sponsored by NOVAC and is operated on a cost-recovery basis; the club expects to expend all fees received on the event itself. Spruce Knob is one of the premier dark-sky sites in the East! Experience Learning provides an outstanding observing location as well as civilized amenities like hot showers, meal service and internet access.  Directions are available from the Maps and Directions page.

For GPS users:
SKMC Entrance N 38° 40′ 25” W 079° 34′ 11”
Center of Main Observing Field N 38° 40′ 36” W 079° 34′ 02”
Center of CCD Imaging Area N 38° 41′ 10” W 079° 33′ 45”
RV Area / Yurts N 38° 41′ 00” W 079° 33′ 26”
How much does the event cost?2018-04-12T12:07:33-04:00

See our registration fees pages for a complete list of event costs.

Is this event for me?2018-04-12T12:08:15-04:00

A truly dark sky is a sight that few get a chance to see. For amateur astronomers who are used to backyard astronomy in the light-polluted suburbs, the sky at Spruce Knob Mountain Center will be an experience that you won’t forget. While the trip takes some time, it will be worth it. However, if your idea of roughing it is a hotel that doesn’t offer turn-down service, you might want to pass. While the amenities at Spruce Knob Mountain Center make this far from a primitive site, camping is not for everyone. We recommend that you come prepared and have reasonable camping experience in order to fully enjoy AHSP.

Will there be a tour of the radio telescope?2018-04-12T12:08:55-04:00

Yes, We will again have a tour of the Green Bank Observatory’s facilities at Green Bank, West Virginia.

If I have a telescope, but don’t know how to use it, can someone help me?2018-04-12T12:09:35-04:00

Yes! Bring your telescope. This is why star parties are so popular. There are always a lot of friendly and experienced people who will be happy to help you set up your equipment and to observe the sky. 

What if I don’t have a telescope?2018-04-12T12:10:20-04:00

Feel free to walk around, ask questions, and ask to look through other people’s telescopes. Astronomers are a friendly bunch and most are more than willing to let you peek through their eyepieces. Don’t forget to bring binoculars if you have them. Many astronomical objects are best viewed through binoculars, and they also come in handy during the day for viewing birds and wildlife.

Especially if you are considering getting a telescope, you will have many opportunities to compare the various types, specific models, home-made vs. commercial, and cost ranges available.

The daytime program is also informative for the new astronomer. Talks range from the scientific to the practical, and you can choose to watch as many of them as you like.

You might also consider bringing a camera and tripod. Experienced astrophotographers can help get you started with photography at night.

Aside from astronomy, what else is there to do?2018-04-12T12:10:48-04:00

This year we are planning to offer a wide range of outdoor activities, such as canoeing, nature hikes, geology, birding, and caving.

  • Explore nearby Spruce Knob Lake which offers boating, fishing, and hiking.
  • Enjoy the scenery, bring your camera and binoculars.
  • There are plenty of trails for hiking and biking. Guided hikes are led by participants and SKMC staff.
  • Check out the Monongahela National Forest.
  • We will have internet connectivity at the main facility areas, so you won’t be entirely cut off from the world.

Check out the Local Attractions page for more ideas!

What presentations will be given, and by whom?2018-04-12T12:11:28-04:00

Check the AHSP Talks and Speakers for program updates and additions.

Will there be power available to recharge batteries?2018-04-12T12:12:08-04:00

There’s no power on the field, but you’re welcome to recharge batteries behind the kitchen yurt. We’ll have power strips available so you can plug your charger in. We have a daily shuttle service planned to help get your battery packs to and from the power. 

The basic arrangements are along these lines:
  • You drop off your battery at a marked area in your observing field in the AM, and you mark with a provided tag or your own tag. Include your name and the field (color) you are on.
  • We bring the battery to the 110VAC power on tables near the main yurt.
  • You connect the battery to your charger
  • You disconnect when charging is complete, before dinner.
  • We return the battery to the original drop-off area.
As long as your battery lasts through the night, you should not have a problem. And on the topic of power, pay attention to having enough dew-prevention heaters, either electric or chemical.
Can I camp and stay with my equipment? Tell me about the observing fields!2018-04-12T12:16:07-04:00

In all observing fields, you can camp with your observing equipment. You can keep your car or RV with you in the Yellow or Green observing fields. These spaces will go first, so be sure to register early.

Spruce Knob is a rolling landscape, so we have designed the camping around the flattest areas:

The Yellow Observing Field is reserved for those who wish to park at their campsite. The slots in the field for this lot are measured off in 15’x30′ grids.  This is enough space for a good size tent, a car, and your astronomical gear for observing.

The Red Observing Field sites are accessible by car, but we will ask you to drop off your gear and move your car to the long-term parking for the duration of the event. This field has stunning southern horizons, so we encourage you to consider this option if you don’t need to have your car nearby.

The Green Observing Field is intended for RVs and other large vehicles greater than 14′.

Please be advised there are no electrical hookups at any site.

What do I do for food and water?2019-04-15T21:19:02-04:00

You can either bring your own food and cook it on the mountain or sign up for the AHSP meal plan.

If you choose to bring your own food, you are responsible for supplying coolers, cooking, and dining equipment. You can always bring your food down to the yurt deck and eat with the group or enjoy it at your campsite.

Meals are provided on site in a cafeteria style, and you can choose to participate in any combination of them in full-day increments. Each meal day includes lunch and dinner and the following breakfast. For example, Friday meals include Lunch and Dinner on Friday, then Breakfast on Saturday. We break it down this way because most participants arrive sometime before dinner on their first day and leave after breakfast on their last.

Your badge will indicate which days’ meals you’ve purchased, and each meal purchase can only be used once. If you lose your badge, a new one will be issued and your old badge will be invalidated.

For more information please see the menu.

Coffee is provided all day each day.

Plenty of potable mountain well water is available from a pipe along the road between the Red and Yellow observing fields. You can also fill up in the shower building or at the Main Yurt.

Can I have a campfire and cook my own meals?2018-04-12T12:17:17-04:00

You may not have a open campfire. You may, however, use self-contained stoves and chemical heating packs.

Are there bathrooms and showers?2018-04-12T12:18:21-04:00

Male and female bathrooms and shower rooms are located behind the yurts and are open 24 hours a day. AHSP participants should bring towels, toiletries, and shower shoes.

There are also portable toilets available in multiple locations on the camping field, and each is outfitted with a dispenser containing hand sanitizer.

SKMC maintains a composting toilet (“No ‘P’ in the ‘ooper’, please!”) behind the Main Yurt. Novel use of colored bottle glass windows and solar night light.

How do I get around at the site?2018-04-12T12:19:19-04:00

SKMC is a large site. The distance between the camping area and the main yurt is approximately 1/4 mile. Please contact us ( if you have mobility concerns; we’ll do our best to answer your questions and arrange assistance if needed.

The use of personal vehicles on the site is restricted. Moving your vehicle is not permitted from 8 pm to 8 am except in the case of an emergency. At all other times, vehicles are allowed to enter and exit the site. However, traffic may not pass beyond the long-term parking area going toward the Yurt without permission from the AHSP Staff.

Some attendees have brought bicycles to the site to ride between the observing fields and the yurt/bathhouse. That works for us!

Is there phone, radio, or internet connectivity?2018-04-12T12:20:30-04:00

Cellular service: SKMC is in a remote area, and also within the National Radio Quiet Zone surrounding the Green Bank Observatory. You should not expect your cell phone to have service. Other cell-based technologies like OnStar and cell-based navigation are also very unreliable. GPS and other satellite-based services are not affected and should operate normally.

FRS radios are encouraged for remaining in contact with your camping group, and for emergency notifications from the AHSP staff. Due to its low power, FRS at SKMC does not interfere with radio astronomy observations. FRS Channel 1 and 2 will be used for AHSP announcements and staff communications; as a courtesy to other attendees, please use channel 3 or higher for your camping group communications.

Wifi-based Internet service will be available at the Main Yurt so you can access the web, check your email, and upload photos. 

Phone service is available in the yurts and at the Earth Shelter. There is no charge for calls to destinations within the continental United States.

Can I have any light on the field?2018-04-12T12:22:58-04:00

This is a dark site. Since it is very easy to lose your dark adaptation, the use of glow sticks or any source of white light is prohibited. Only low-powered, red-filtered flashlights are permitted in the observing areas.

The prohibition also covers white lights inside tents which might be visible on the field. Lights in cars (dome lights, door lights, etc.) which may come on remotely or automatically need to be covered or adequately filtered.

Laser pointers may not be used, as they interfere with observers doing astrophotography. There is one exception to this rule: we may conduct a “star tour” just after dark as part of the formal program using a laser pointer.

Will there be power on the field?2018-04-12T12:23:29-04:00

The observing fields will not have power available. However, we will be providing 110 VAC power at the Main Yurt Shed for the purpose of charging batteries on a first-come, first-served basis as capacity allows. You are encouraged to bring sufficient battery power to operate your equipment.

Many observers use deep-cycle marine batteries or the smaller lawn tractor variety. Portable 12 VDC power packs with reasonable capacity are easily available at stores such as Costco or Wal-Mart for under $75.

To operate AC equipment you can also pick up a 12 VDC to 110 VAC inverter.

We will assist attendees in transporting the batteries to the main yurt for recharging. Details will be provided on site.

Very quiet generators may be used if they are located far enough from others as to not disturb neighbors.

What will the temperature be like?2018-04-12T12:24:06-04:00

The observing field is 4300 feet above sea level. Expect a wide range of temperatures: heat during the day and quite rapid cooling after sunset! Temperatures can dip as low as the 30s.

Here’s a weather page for Spruce Knob.

Dress for cooler weather than in the lowlands. As usual, when observing, the key is to dress in layers.

Will the Moon be a problem?2019-09-05T20:27:16-04:00

No. We plan AHSP over a new moon weekend. This year’s new moon will fall on Saturday 15, August, 2020. 

Will there be observing during the day?2018-04-12T12:25:38-04:00

Actually, yes. Many astronomers have filters that allow observation of the Sun and we expect that several specialized hydrogen alpha scopes will be set up to observe amazing details like prominences and filaments.

During the day, there will be a number of astronomy-related presentations and hands-on demonstrations that you can attend.


If you have additions that you would like to see or have additional questions please email