The past AHSP (2012) event overview

Cass Mountain Scenic Railroad

Bald Knob Run
Saturday, August 18, 2012 – Train departs at noon; meet on outdoor deck at 8:15 am (early cars) to 10:15 am (latest) for carpools.

Based on members’ suggestions and and a successful outing last year, we have added a field trip to the Cass Scenic Railroad as a daylight activity on Saturday, 18 August. Fortunately, it does not conflict with the NRAO tour, so you do not have to choose this year. AHSP has reserved a private car for the 4½ hour trip to Bald Knob at 4800 ft, with historical stops along the way. Definitely a family activity, for any weather. We plan a picnic lunch of sandwiches at the summit stop on the way — more flexibility in choices, and less waste than last year.

Tickets for the train ride, the historical sites, and lunch are $40 for adults and $20 for children. This activity is limited to the railcar capacity. Cass is about an hour south of TMI, just beyond NRAO. We will be back in time for the TMI dinner and evening program.

Bob Bunge wrote in 2010: “Cass is unique and very much a treasure of mountain history and culture (much like TMI). It has the largest operating fleet of geared locomotives in the US. One of their locomotives, Western Maryland #6 is the largest Shay type locomotive ever made.

“The trip up the mountain features steep, steep grades; at some points, there are “switch backs” where the train will stop, backup and move forward again since there either isn’t room or the grades would be too steep even for the geared locomotives. The engines work very hard up the mountain, if you are into anything industrial and enjoy sound, the combination of the different noises, the roar of the exhaust, the steam whistle and screech of the wheels is a real treat.”

Last year, volunteer restorers showed us and discussed their work restoring and maintaining the Cass locomotives. It was a highlight of the day. The restorers have set their work schedule for the summer, and they will be working with the shops open on our visit day.

Volunteer carpools will meet on Saturday morning on the deck after breakfast. Those who wish to be at Cass for the Locomotive Works tour should be prepared to leave TMI by 8:15 for a 9:30 arrival. Those who are going for the train ride only should be prepared to leave TMI by 10:15 for 11:30 arrival. Leaving in between will give you some time to explore the town around the Cass depot. We ask that carpools leave right after the train returns, so that we will be back to AHSP in time for TMI dinner and evening activities at 6:00.

A guided tour of the former paper mill and the current rail yard will leave from the flagpole at 9:45.

Our current plan to is to have a do-it-yourself picnic lunch of cold sandwiches and sides at the Bald Knob summit stop. Those who have registered for the Cass trip were sent a form requesting lunch preferences, and asking about carpooling arrangements (offer/need/have a ride, departure time), so that we can make best possible advanced plans to accommodate everyone. Lunch suggestions will needed to be received by Friday, 10 August.

Because we expect a full house this year, those who wish can make their sandwiches before we depart from Cass. We will set up just for sandwich making at the picnic shelter at the far end of the parking lot. The sandwich line will also be set up at the summit stop, as well as drinks and sides. Some snacks will be on the train, we we are not yet sure how accessible they will be while we are between stops.

National Radio Astronomy Observatory

NRAO: Behind-the-scenes Tour

Sunday, August 19, 2012 – Meet on outdoor deck at 10:30 to form carpools for noon departure.

The 2012 tour will be a “behind-the-scenes” tour, so participants will get to visit labs and the telescope control room —locations that are normally off-limits to the public!

Hands-on Radio Astronomy
Sunday, August 19, 2012 overnight

We have arranged for access to NRAO’s 40-foot educational dish on the evening of Sunday, August 19. Participants will stay overnight at NRAO and return the morning of Monday, August 20. No prior radioastronomy experience is required; NRAO will provide instruction and support. Space is very limited!

If you’re going on the Behind-the-Scenes Tour, you’ll simply stay at NRAO following the conclusion of the tour. Otherwise, you should plan to be on-site at NRAO by 3:45 p.m.

If you will be observing using NRAO’s 40-foot educational dish, you may wish to look over the observing manual before you arrive at AHSP.  Here is a pdf copy of The 40-Foot Observer’s Manual.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Cameras are welcome at NRAO. In order to prevent radio-frequency interference to observations in progress, the observatory prohibits the use of digital cameras (and electronics-laden film cameras) in some locations close to the telescopes. Bring a simple film camera if you’d like to get some pictures up close to the instruments.

Events and Speakers

Is Anybody Out There?
The Search for ET with Help from Eight Million Volunteers

Friday, August 17, 2012, 6:30pm in the Yurt

Dan Werthimer, University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Werthimer will discuss the possibility of life in the universe and the search for radio and optical signals from other civilizations.  Berkeley’s SETI@home project analyzes data from the world’s largest radio telescope using desktop computers from millions of volunteers. SETI@home participants have contributed millions of years of computer time and have formed one of Earth’s most powerful supercomputers.  Users have the small but captivating possibility their computer will detect the first signal from a civilization beyond Earth.

Werthimer will also discuss other citizen science projects, next generation radio telescopes,  as well as speculate on when Earthlings might discover other civilizations.

Dan Werthimer is principal investigator of SETI@home and several radio and optical SETI programs at the University of California, Berkeley.  Werthimer also directs the Center for Astronomy SignalProcessing and Electronics Research (CASPER), and is associate director of the Berkeley Wireless Research Center (BWRC).
Werthimer was associate professor in the engineering and physics departments of San Francisco State University and a visiting professor at Beijing Normal University, the University of St. Charles in Marseille, and Eotvos University in Budapest. He has taught at universities in Peru, Egypt, Ghana,  Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya.  Werthimer has published numerous papers in the fields of SETI, radio astronomy instrumentation and science education; he is co-author of “SETI 2020”, editor of “BioAstronomy: Molecules, Microbes and Extraterrestrial Life” and “Astronomical and Biochemical Origins and the Search for Life in the Universe”.

Chicken Little Was Right! — Meteorites
Saturday, August 18, 2012, 7:00 pm in the Yurt

Skip Bird, Observatory Director, Westminster Astronomical Society

The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling. Come find out why Chicken little was right. We will explore things like Comets (by making one), Asteroids and the dinosaurs and any upcoming meteor shower. Join us and play “Guess the Meteorite” contest. Find out how with Skip Bird, Observatory Director of the Westminster Astronomical Society. Learn fun and unique ways to leave the planet, journey to the stars and still be back in time for dinner. Time machines provided by the Westminster Astronomical Society.

Wayne “Skip” Bird is presently the Treasurer/Observatory Director/Night Sky Network Guru for the Westminster Astronomical Society, and outreach fanatic (definition of fanatic: someone who will not change his mind AND will not change the subject). He is also a 5th grade “Mad” Science teacher. He is the world renowned author of “Night Flying Astronomy Bird” articles (OK, maybe world renowned is being a little modest), and the World’s Greatest Dad — he has the button to prove it, but enough from his autobiography.

Night Sky Network
Sunday, August 19, 2012, 1:30 pm in the Yurt

Skip Bird, Observatory Director, Westminster Astronomical Society

The Night Sky Network is a nationwide coalition of amateur astronomy clubs bringing the science, technology, and inspiration of NASA’s missions to the general public.

We share our time and telescopes to provide you with unique astronomy experiences at science museums, observatories, classrooms, and under the real night sky.

Wayne’s bio has not changed in the 28 seconds since you read it above.

Mars Science Laboratory Mission
Sunday, August 19, 2012, 6:30 pm in the Yurt

Harold Geller, George Mason University

On August 5, 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory is due to deliver the Curiosity Rover to Mars.  Curiosity will be the largest rover to explore the surface of Mars.  Dr. Geller will give an overview of the history of the exploration of Mars and conclude with a description of the Mars Science Laboratory and pictures of the Curiosity Rover.

Dr. Harold A. Geller is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador. He has been Associate Professor of Astronomy and Observatory Director at George Mason University (GMU). He has taught astronomy for over 20 years. In 2010 he shared in four Telly Awards and in 2009 two Telly Awards for a series of online videos with Astrocast.TV. In 2008 Dr. Geller was awarded the GMU Faculty Member of the Year, the same year he published a book on astrobiology. Other past achievements include award winning tour guide and lecturer with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; past President of the Potomac Geophysical Society; developer of two educational multimedia CD-ROMs; faculty at Northern Virginia Community College; doctoral fellow of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia; and, lecturer/operator at the Einstein Planetarium in the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Geller has contributed to over 50 publications in education, astrophysics, astrobiology, and biochemistry.

Why and How the Guide Star Catalog Ended Up in Your Laptop
Monday, August 20, 2012, 6:30 pm in the Yurt

Alan Goldberg

Astrometry is possibly the least appreciated branch of professional astronomy, and amateurs rarely become interested. But we all want our telescopes to point at our targets accurately and effortlessly, and we want finder charts which are accurate and complete. That was the problem which faced the Hubble Space Telescope, and which led to the creation of the Digital Sky Survey and the Guide Star Catalog before launch. This in turn led to freely available digitized star catalogs as faint as any amateur might need. I will discuss the requirements, the solution, and the production of the first GSC, which led to most of the whole-sky surveys and catalogs available today.

Alan Goldberg is a member of NOVAC and a principal scientist with The MITRE Corp. in McLean, VA. He’s been an amateur astronomer since elementary school, and finally owns an 8″ SCT. After graduate study at Univ. of Texas and MIT in astronomy and planetary science, he worked on the design and operation of the Hubble Space Telescope. He has also worked on Landsat, NASA’s Earth Observing Satellite (EOS) series, and NOAA’s NPOESS weather satellite. He currently assists the government in buying commercial space-based Earth imagery.

Planetary Imaging
Monday, August 20, 2012, 10:00 am in the Yurt

Kevin Quin

Jupiter is back, and modern software makes getting great images of the planets almost effortless.  No, we’re just kidding, of course!  It’s a huge pain!  Still, with the automation features and batch processing capabilities of programs like Firecapture and Autostakkert, it’s far easier than it used to be.  Kevin Quin will show you how he uses these two freeware programs as the foundation of his planetary imaging routine.

As he’ll tell anyone who will listen, Kevin has no technical background whatsoever, and obtains good images through stubbornness rather than skill.  Figuring that anyone who’s taking advice from him is desperate, he’s compiled his suffering into a series of presentations that he calls “You Suck at Astrophotography (and so do I).”  This is Volume 3, following up on Volumes 1 (Planetary Image Processing for Liberal Arts Majors) and 2 (Autoguiding Without Superstition).

Field-Portable Astro-Imaging
Monday, August 20, 2012, 1:00 pm in the Yurt

Ken Tatum

So, you’ve been bitten by the astrophotography bug, but your backyard is next door to the bright lights of Dulles Airport?  Or maybe, like many of us,  you have so little horizon you can barely see straight up, and finding Polaris is out of the question?   This presentation, aimed at the urban or suburban-dwelling imager, is centered around how to optimize planning, packing, equipment, and procedures to conserve dark time in the field and get the most out of imaging when your only practical option for astrophotography is driving out to a dark site.

Ken Tatum is a member of NOVAC, a computer scientist by education, and technical analyst by experience.  Growing up in Ithaca, NY, Ken first gained his enthusiasm for the night sky from a weekly fourth-grade astronomy class sparked by the local filming of the original “Cosmos” series.  A self-taught astrophotographer, Ken learned his techniques mostly through trial and error, combined with a hefty dose of research on whatever approaches to the craft he could glean from books, friends, and the Internet.

Cataclysmic Variables
Monday, August 20, 2012, 3:00 pm in the Yurt

Steve Tilford

When it comes to variable stars there is nothing better than one that keeps exploding. Cataclysmic Variables are such an animal. The paths taken to this “Super” brightening are as varied as the stars themselves.  Learn what makes cataclysmic variables tick. You just might get hooked on these fascinating objects.

Steve is Vice president of  the 101 year old Cincinnati Astronomical Society. He can trace his astronomical roots back to the second grade. From that moment Steve has been excited to share with people the grandeur of the night sky. While at TCU,  Steve had the opportunity to co-op on a construction project at McDonald observatory. While there he participated in Public outreach for the observatory but job and school took him back to Fort Worth and from there He moved to Cincinnati where he is a presenter and lecturer for the Cincinnati Observatory Center, Drake Science Center, Cincinnati State College. Steve has a Blog about Astronomy, Steve’s Astrocorner. He had the honor of writing  Renowned Planetary Scientist, Jim Elliot’s Obituary for the science community which was picked up nationally. During the Transit of Venus event held at the Drake Science Center in Cincinnati, Steve had the honor of speaking about the history of the transit to about 500 people as well as rub elbows with Frank Drake  as he celebrated his 82nd Birthday.

IDA Regional Workshop

Friday, August 17, 2012 at 2:30 pm in the Yurt

Organizer: Bob Parks

The Executive Director of International Dark-Sky Association will discuss ways to help protect the night sky and answer questions about lighting ordinances and quality outdoor lighting. In addition, he will talk about the new IDA Parks and Protected Areas program and IDA’s work with the National Park Service to preserve pristine dark sky places.

Bob Parks is the founder of the Virginia Outdoor Lighting Taskforce (VOLT), an all-volunteer, non-profit, grassroots advocacy group working for safe and efficient outdoor lighting since 2000. VOLT has been successful helping localities in Virginia to enact lighting ordinances and was instrumental in the passage of legislation that requires all state facilities to purchase only full cut-off fixtures.

Mr. Parks is an avid amateur astronomer and past president of the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club, the largest astronomy club in the United States. He has been a member of International Dark-Sky Association since 2000. In 2005 he founded the Almost Heaven Star Party at Spruce Knob, WV, one of the darkest observing sites on the east coast.

In March of 2009 Mr. Parks joined IDA to start the Washington Office for Public Policy and Government Affairs. As Managing Director he works to inform the Congress and federal agencies about the IDA mission and it’s issues. In addition, he is working to build a coalition of environmental and energy organizations that have parallel goals to reduce light pollution, conserve energy, and preserve the natural environment.

In 2010 he became the Executive Director of IDA, managing the entire organization.

Participatory Activities

Swap Table
Saturday, August 18, 2012, 4:00-5:30 pm on the Yurt deck


Bring your astronomy, observing, or space-related items to sell. Bring your cash to get those items you need. Bring more cash for the items you want. Bring even more to get items you didn’t even know exist.

All transactions will be simply private between buyers and sellers. Sellers should stay with their items as long as they are on display.

Informal Visual Observing Workshop
Evenings, Saturday through Monday. Meet at Donna’s location on the Yellow Observing Field (look for the red marker light).

Donna Blosser

Donna will be available every night at dusk to chat with beginners on a variety of observing topics. This informal get-together could cover anything from how to locate and recognize deep sky objects, types of objects to observe, tips on seeing faint objects, etc. Beginners questions will steer the topics discussed. Drop by for a short while or stay until the chat winds up for the evening. This is informal! Appropriate for observers of all experience levels.

Polar Alignment
Saturday [tentative] at 8:30 pm on the Yurt deck

Tom Kennedy

Achieving imaging-quality polar alignment is not as hard as it sounds. Come to this always-popular workshop and learn all you need to know to master polar alignment.

Other on-field activities schedule pending, and will be subject to sky conditions.

Outdoor Events

Saturday & Sunday, August 18 & 19, 2012 at 9:00 am

Ian Carmack

Whether you are a seasoned birdwatcher or a casual observer you are sure to enjoy one of our two birdwatching sessions. Don’t miss this opportunity to see what West Virginia has to offer this time around. It will be later in the season and we expect cooler-climate populations to delight us with a visit.

Birdwatching sessions will occur Saturday and Sunday morning right after breakfast, weather permitting.

Bring binoculars if you have them. We will be walking through some uncut grass, so shoes (boots) that can withstand some dew may be a good idea.

Geology Hike
Saturday or Sunday, August 18 or 19, 2012 at [later morning]

Lyle Mars

This is a fascinating hike for those interested in learning more about the geology of the Spruce Knob region. No prior knowledge of geology needed.

Summit Hike and Canoeing
Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 9:00 am.

The Mountain Institute Staff

The Mountain Institute’s staff will lead two prime outdoors activities for the area: a Spruce Knob summit hike and a canoeing trip. Both will depart from the Yurt deck at 9:00 on Sunday

Botany Hike

The Mountain Institute Staff


The Mountain Institute’s staff will lead a Spruce Knob botany hike, presenting the plants and natural history of the local area.

Caving … is back!
Monday, August 20, 2012 at 9:00 am & 1:00 pm

The Mountain Institute Staff


The Mountain Institute’s staff will lead a trip to a local Shenandoah cave. After many years of caves being closed for fear of spreading White Nose Syndrome in bats, it has been determined that caving is not a contributing factor. TMI staff will lead two caving trips on Monday. Prepare to get muddy!

Contest Events

AHSP Photo Competition

Organized by Chris Lee and Marty Bordelon

Judged by Arlen Raasch and Kathryn Scott


Here are the basic rules for 2012:

1) Photos will be accepted in one of the four following catagories:

  • Solar system photos
  • Deep space photos
  • AHSP event photos (including AHSP sponsored activities, e.g. Cass Scenic Railroad, NRAO Tour, geology hike, etc.)
  • Youth photos (photos taken by a person 12 years old or younger)

2) Photos must be submitted in jpg or png format and must be loaded by the entrant via their media (thumb drive or compact media). There will be a laptop in the presentation yurt to use to upload your photos or you can use the form from your own computer.

3) Photos must be taken during the 2012 AHSP event.

4) Photos are to be taken at The Mountain Institute or one of the AHSP sponsored activity locations.

5) Each person submitting photo contest entries must be a 2012 AHSP registrant, and may submit up to a total of ten photos to be judged.

6) All rights to the photos will be retained by the person creating the photo. Each person may elect to allow their photos to be used to promote future AHSP events.

7) The prizes which will be awarded to the photographers will be announced at AHSP.

8) Photos can be submitted from Saturday on and the deadline for photo entries is 8:30 am on Monday, August 20, 2012.

9) The prizes will be awarded on Monday, August 20, before dinner (5pm).

Additional details on where and when to submit photo entries will be posted at AHSP.

AHSP Raffle

AHSP is bringing back its raffle this year.

  • There will be one special item, limited to one entry per AHSP registrant.
  • Attendees will receive several regular raffle tickets with registration, and can buy more.
  • Extra tickets will be given to children who are attending, and which can be used exclusively to enter for items appropriate to their ages.
  • The raffle drawing will be Sunday before dinner.
  • One “trustee” volunteer will hold tickets for those who are away at the NRAO overnight observing. All others must be present to win.
[Details subject to adjustment.]

In brief:

  • Each adult registrant will be given blue tickets, which can be used for the special raffle item, or general items.
  • Each child registrant will be given yellow tickets, which can be used for children’s items, or general items.
  • Each registrant will be given red tickets, and can buy more red tickets, which can be used to enter for general items.


All events, times and dates are subject to change based on sky conditions and other factors.