Cass Mountain Scenic Railroad

Whitaker Station Run
Saturday, September 7, 2013

– Train departs at 11:00; meet on outdoor deck at 8:15 am (early cars) to 9:15 am (latest) for carpools.

Based on members’ suggestions and and successful previous outings, we have added a field trip to the Cass Scenic Railroad as a daylight activity on Saturday. Fortunately, it does not conflict with the NRAO tour, so you do not have to choose this year. AHSP will have group-rate tickets for the 2 hour round trip to Whitaker Station, which recreates part of the logging tradition of the area. Definitely a family activity, for any weather. We will provide snacks for our group. Lunch will be on your own, either at the lunchroom in Cass or somewhere else of you choosing (suggestions to be provided).

Tickets for the train ride, the historical sites, and snacks will be less than $40 for adults and less than $20 for children. As we were not able to reserve a car this year, we are not limited in the group size. Cass is about an hour south of TMI, just beyond NRAO. We will be back in time for the TMI dinner and evening program.

[Update Aug. 15:] Final prices will $20 for adults and $15 for children 5-12 years old. Those who have already reserved and paid the original fee will receive a refund.

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 may 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 9:15 for 10:30 arrival. Leaving in between will give you some time to explore the town around the Cass depot. If you join a carpool, plan ahead for what you will do after the train and what you will do for lunch. You might want to get a box lunch in town before you leave. There should be no problem getting back to TMI for dinner, programs, and observing.

A guided tour of the former paper mill and the current rail yard will leave from the flagpole at 9:45. Leaving TMI at 8:15 should make get you to Cass in time.

Those interested in the 4h30m run to Bald Knob can take that trip on their own.

National Radio Astronomy Observatory

NRAO: Behind-the-scenes Tour

Sunday, September 8, 2013 – Meet on outdoor deck at 10:30 to form carpools for noon departure.

The 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, September 8, 2013 overnight

We have arranged for access to NRAO’s 40-foot educational dish on this evening. Participants will stay overnight at NRAO and return the next morning. 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 – Updated for 2013!


Bob Naeye, Editor in Chief, Sky and Telescope Magazine

Friday, September 6, 2013, 6:30 pm in the Yurt

Amateur Exoplanet Achievements

Just 20 years ago, astronomers didn’t know for certain whether other stars like our Sun were accompanied by planets. But since 1995, a scientific revolution has revealed more than 900 confirmed “extrasolar planets” and more than 3,000 strong candidates. These worlds exhibit a much wider diversity of properties and orbits than those in our solar system, and they have taught astronomers a great deal about how planetary systems form and evolve.

Incredibly, and against all expectations, amateur astronomers have participated in this revolution. Observing with their own backyard telescopes, amateurs have played a key role in the discovery and characterization of several extrasolar planets.

Professional research astronomers have come to deeply respect the skill of these amateurs, and amateurs are listed as coauthors of numerous papers published in the leading astronomical journals. These contributions demonstrate how dedicated amateurs, using relatively inexpensive equipment, can advance human knowledge in one of the most important areas of modern scientific research, a field of research that bears directly on the question of whether or not we are alone in our galaxy. Join Sky & Telescope Editor in Chief Robert Naeye as he shares the remarkable story of how amateur astronomers are contributing to one of the most exciting fields in science.

Bob Naeye, owns five telescopes and more eyepieces than he can count. His favorite deep-sky activity is perusing the ghostly tendrils of the Veil Nebula using an OIII filter. Bob is editor in chief of Sky & Telescope magazine and, and a proud member of the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston, and the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg, which is based near his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Besides his S&T experience, Bob worked as a researcher/reporter at Discover magazine, senior editor at Astronomy magazine, editor in chief of Mercury magazine (the membership magazine of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific), and as senior science writer in the Astrophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

He has been honored by the Astronomical Association of Northern California with its Professional Astronomer of the Year Award, and also by the American Astronomical Society’s High Energy Astrophysics Division with its David N. Schramm Award for Science Journalism. Bob has also authored two books and contributed to two others.

Andrea Jones, Education and Public Outreach Specialist, The Lunar and Planetary Institute

Saturday, September 7, 2013, 10:00 am in the Yurt

Science Results from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission

Ms. Jones will provide a brief overview of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and will discuss some of LRO’s latest science results and how those results are improving our understanding of the Moon.

Andrea Jones is an Education and Public Outreach Specialist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, based out of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. She conducts education and public outreach activities for NASA planetary missions, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover mission as part of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team. Andrea is also the Informal Education Lead for the NASA Earth Science Education and Public Outreach Forum.  She received her undergraduate degree in Geology from the College of William & Mary, and a Masters degree in Geosciences, with a focus in planetary geology, from the University of Arizona.

Katie Nagy, Astronomy Education Program Manager, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Saturday, September 7, 2013, 1:30 pm in the Yurt

What are Sunspots? A History

Sunspots, to put it simply, are relatively cool areas on the surface of our star that are caused by the Sun’s magnetic activity.  But how did astronomers figure this out? How did their interpretations of sunspots change as the technology used in astronomical observation advanced? What ideas in astronomy and physics helped astronomers make sense of sunspots? Sunspots have been observed and recorded from well before the invention of the telescope through the centuries that followed.  We’ll explore the journey astronomers took to arrive at our current understanding of sunspots.

Katie Nagy is the Astronomy Education Program Manager at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where she leads the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory and other astronomy education activities.  Katie got involved astronomy education when she was in high school and began helping at public observing events as a member of the Flint River Astronomy Club.  Since then, she has been active in astronomy and education in a variety of ways.   She is a graduate of the University of Arizona with a B.S. in astronomy and mathematics, and the George Washington University with a M.A.T. in museum education.

Paul Bogard, Author and Assistant Professor of English at James Madison University

Saturday, September 7, 2013, 3:00 pm in the Yurt

The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light

Book description: A deeply panoramic tour of the night, from its brightest spots to the darkest skies we have left.

A starry night is one of nature’s most magical wonders. Yet in our artificially lit world, three-quarters of Americans’ eyes never switch to night vision and most of us no longer experience true darkness. In THE END OF NIGHT, Paul Bogard restores our awareness of the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky and how it has influenced the human experience across everything from science to art.
From Las Vegas’ Luxor Beam–the brightest single spot on this planet–to nights so starlit the sky looks like snow, Bogard blends personal narrative, natural history, science, and history to shed light on the importance of darkness–what we’ve lost, what we still have, and what we might regain–and the simple ways we can reduce the brightness of our nights tonight.

Paul Bogard is the author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, published by Little, Brown. He is editor of the anthology Let There Be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark. A native Minnesotan, Paul grew up watching the stars and moon from a lake in the northern part of the state. He has lived and taught in New Mexico, Nevada, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, and is now assistant professor of English at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Rod Mollise, Contributing Editor, Sky and Telescope Magazine

Saturday, September 7, 2013, 6:30 pm in the Yurt

Pushing Back Your Final Frontier with the Mallincam Deep Space Video Cameras

Mr. Mollise will tell his audience how they can go deep into the Universe, see incredible amounts of detail, and do that without tons of expensive equipment and years of imaging experience.

“Uncle” Rod Mollise, a Contributing Editor at Sky and Telescope magazine, is familiar to amateur astronomers as the author numerous books and magazine articles on every aspect of our hobby. He also writes a long-running weekly blog that has become a familiar feature of the amateur astronomy landscape. He is most well known, however, for his books and articles on Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes, SCTs, including Choosing and Using a New CAT (Springer), which has become the standard reference work for these popular instruments.

When he’s not on the road speaking at star parties and astronomy club meetings across the country, Rod shares a rambling old Victorian home in Mobile’s Garden District, “Chaos Manor South,” with his wonderful wife, Dorothy, two cats and, at last count, twelve telescopes.

Jan Wisniewski, NOVAC Member

Sunday, September 8, 2013, 10:00 am in the Yurt

A practical demonstration of DSLR astroimage assembly with some processing

This talk will be geared toward people who have tried using DSLR for astroimaging but would like to learn how to get a little bit more out of their hard-earned exposures. Over years I used to talk about image calibration at NEAF, MAAW and AHSP but this time I would like to present something more practical – so do not expect nice images, because, in a sense, uglier are the better for this purpose ;-). Topics will include image acquisition, camera characteristics, dealing with dark current and flat-fielding, Bayer-array decomposition, registering and stacking, narrowband imaging, color assembly and balance, basic scaling, creating mosaics. While IRIS and AIP4WIN will be used for demonstration on sample deep-sky DSLR images, the general approach will be software-independent.

Skip Bird, Observatory Director, Westminster Astronomical Society

Sunday, September 8, 2013, 1:30 pm in the Yurt

Comet ISON, The Great comet is coming!!!!! Or not…

Are you gearing up for the comet ISON? Need help to buy all the equipment needed to view, photograph and immortalize its visit. Well this talk will not be about the equipment, photographing it, or immortalizing it (if you do not count the wide eyed wonder that the kids will be showing), but it will be about how to present it to the public (without getting them disappointed, if it fizzles), how to make a comet (always fun even when it doesn’t work) and how to have fun with all the questions and the misinformation that is sure to track you down like a bounty hunter and hound you until you answer.

To sum up; comets are like cats. They all have tails and do as they D**** well please!


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.

Harold Geller, George Mason University

Sunday, September 8, 2013, 3:00 pm in the Yurt

What are the Odds? – From Life on Mars to Life in the Universe

We will address the probabilities associated with the likelihood of the existence of life on Mars, elsewhere in our solar system, and in the universe. We will also examine the Hawking harmful ETI hypothesis and the counterculture called extraterrestrial altruism.


Dr. Geller has over thirty years of work experience in industry, government and academia. He first taught astronomy as an adjunct, currently in his ninth year as a full-time faculty in physics and astronomy at George Mason University. He is also now serving as the Associate Chair of the department. He was Principal Investigator on a research grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Dr. Geller also developed multimedia CD-ROM education and public outreach products for ONR.

David DeVorkin, Senior Curator, history of astronomy and the space sciences at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Sunday, September 8, 2013, 6:30 pm in the Yurt

History of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under Fred Whipple

Astronomers remember the Harvard astronomer Fred Whipple as the creator of the “dirty snowball” model for comets, and as a leading student of meteor trails.  The world remembers Whipple for his promotion of Project Moonwatch, tracking the world’s first artificial satellites, and attracting the energies and passions of thousands of amateur astronomers in one of the largest “citizen science” projects of all time.  Tonight we’ll explore these worlds Whipple inhabited and helped to populate, and how he did it by transforming the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory into the largest astronomical institution on our home world.


David DeVorkin is senior curator, history of astronomy and the space sciences at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. He has been a curator since January 1981. From 1987 through 1991 he held the concurrent position of chair of the Advisory Committee to the Smithsonian Videohistory Program, and spent the summer and fall of 1991 as a visiting member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Major research interests are in the origins and development of modern astrophysics during the 20th Century; and the origins of the space sciences. He specializes in the history of space astronomy and in the government and military patronage of science in the post-WWII era. He has published a major biography of the Princeton astronomer Henry Norris Russell that has been critically acclaimed, and has curated two major exhibitions at the NASM as well as several smaller ones. He is responsible for collecting astronomical, solar, geophysical and related instrumentation for the Smithsonian, concentrating on the 20th Century.

Tom Finkenbinder, NOVAC Member

Monday, September 9, 2013, 10:00 am in the Yurt

The Gamma Ray Burst SIG and Outreach Update

The Gamma Ray Burst Special Interest Group (the GRBSIG) was built on Yahoo! Groups in 2006 with the support of NOVAC, the Astronomy Department at Penn State University, and the Swift satellite mission Principal Investigators office, NASA Goddard SFC (see  Gamma Ray Bursts are short-lived extra-galactic events, many times with observable features lasting a few hours to a few days.  Hundreds have been observed by satellite and terrestrial observatories since the launch of the Swift mission in 2004.  At AHSP, Tom Finkenbinder will be conducting a live demonstration of the GRBSIG site on Yahoo!  An additional discussion about outreach activities surrounding GRB study at Penn State and UNC Chapel Hill is planned.


Tom has been a NOVAC member since 2002, and served on the Board of Trustees for several years.  Earlier in his career, Tom worked as a feasibility and concept analyst for several space programs, and as a test engineer, predominantly with telephony and data communication systems.  Tom is a dual Penn State graduate in the electrical engineering and the MBA programs.  His experience with satellite systems, interest in amateur astronomy nurtured at NOVAC, and the Penn State connection converged into the Yahoo! Groups site, christened “The GRBSIG” in 2006.

Kevin Quin, NOVAC Member

Monday, September 9, 2013, 1:30 pm in the Yurt

Shooting with your eyes closed: Imaging Automation

Gone are the days when deep sky astrophotography meant exhausting nights spent fretting over your gear while swatting mosquitoes or fending off frostbite.  With imaging automation packages like Sequence Generator Pro, you can set up your imaging equipment and then spend the rest of the night looking through that huge dob down the field, watching TV with your family, or even sleeping!  (Remember what sleep is?)  In the morning your images will be waiting on your laptop and your gear will be safely powered down.  Kevin Quin will describe the components of an automated imaging setup, and explain how he uses imaging automation software to take pictures while he’s fast asleep.


This is the fourth volume of a series of presentations on imaging that Kevin calls You Suck at Astrophotography (and so do I).  As he’ll tell anyone who will listen, Kevin has no technical background whatsoever, and obtains good images through stubbornness rather than skill.  He lives in fear of the day when someone knowledgeable will point out that he really has no idea what he’s doing.  Until then, he enjoys providing the liberal arts major’s perspective on technical topics in astrophotography.

Bob Traube, NOVAC Member

Monday, September 9, 2013, 3:00 pm in the Yurt

Just Do It. Getting Started in Astrophotography

Astrophotography can be among the most challenging aspects of this hobby, requiring patience, precision, of course photons.  But you don’t have to wait until you own that $10,000 scope or mount.  Capturing good astrophotos begins with knowing how to use the gear you currently own, or can soon acquire, and analyzing the images to see what you need to do to make them better.  One word of caution; the drive to produce better and better photos will place a serious strain on you self restraint.


Bob Traube is a retired Air Force officer living in Woodbridge, VA.  He has been a NOVAC member for over 12 years. During that time he has developed his astrophotography skills from the bottom up and now produces wonderful images of the night time sky whenever he gets the chance.  Shooting primarily with a DSLR, he captures deep space images using a variety of scopes and methods.  You can check out some of his work at :

Alan Goldberg, NOVAC Member

Monday, September 9, 2013, 6:30 pm in the Yurt

Big Data in astronomy: the Virtual Astronomical Observatory and the International Virtual Observatory

For most of its history, astronomers have been starved for quality data. Now with more telescopes in better locations, with larger and more capable detectors, with storage and communications that permit data to be shared, and with more subtle questions to be answered, astronomers do not need to be at the eyepiece to study the sky. This talk will review the changing role of data in astronomy, how it is being organized, and how everyone can share in the bounty.


Alan Goldberg is a member of NOVAC and a remote sensing scientist at The MITRE Corp. He did his graduate studies at MIT in planetary astronomy, and has worked on data systems for satellite remote sensing, including Hubble Space Telescope,  Landsat,  Earth Observing System, and the JPSS weather satellite system.

2012 Events Archive Page

Participatory Activities

Swap Table

Friday, September 6, 2013, 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 – Updated for 2013, more details to come!

Saturday & Sunday, September 7 & 8, 2013 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, September 7 or 8, 2013 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, September 8, 2013 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!
Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 9:00 am

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 a caving trip on Saturday. Prepare to get muddy!

Contest Events

AHSP Photo Competition

Organized by Chris Lee

Judged by Arlen Raasch and Kathryn Scott


Here are the basic rules:

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.)
  • Nature
  • Youth photos (photos taken by a person 12 years old or younger)

2) Photos must be submitted in jpg format and must be loaded by the entrant on a designated PC (thumb drive, disk, or email).

3) Photos must be taken during the current 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 current 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 or after via email.

8) The deadline for photo entries is for kids is 5pm Sunday – entries for main contest will be extended and announced via email.

9) The kids prize will be awarded on Sunday before dinner.

Photos can be submitted from Friday on, and will be displayed for all to see on the TV above the Yurt meeting room as received.

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 Saturday before dinner.
[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.