Central Virginia Star Party

Oct 2, 2015

This year, for the 5th year in a row, star gazers are invited to attend the Central Virginia Star Party. Emily Richardson-Lorente has a preview.  UPDATE from the organizers:  "With the threat of flooding, we have decided that for everyone’s safety, we have to cancel tomorrow's Star Party. Although we will not be able to reschedule this event, we are actively brainstorming other ways to showcase our beautiful night skies."

If you’re like most Virginians, you probably spend more time Googling stars — Beyonce … Trevor … Noah … Benedict … Cumberbatch — than you do looking up at the actual stars in the sky above you, but there’s something you should know:

KELSEY JOHNSON: Central Virginia has some of the darkest nighttime skies of anywhere on the east coast.

Kelsey Johnson is an Associate Professor of Astronomy at UVa and the director of the Dark Skies, Bright Kids program. For her, the nighttime skies in Central Virginia are just too beautiful not to share. So this weekend, for the fifth year in a row, her organization will be throwing a “star party.” The free event will be held at Albermarle Ciderworks, just south of Charlottesville. Among the attractions? BIG telescopes.

KELSEY JOHNSON: The telescopes that we bring to the Star Party are actually the biggest telescopes that we can move. So these telescopes are pretty impressive beasts and they can see some pretty faint things in the sky.

Now, you’re probably thinking that sounds cool, but isn’t it supposed to rain this weekend? Yes, yes, it is. In that case, the telescopes won’t be put out, but then again, neither will Kelsey Johnson, because there will still be plenty of indoor attractions, including crafts for kids, an infrared camera and a $50,000 portable blow-up planetarium.

KELSEY JOHNSON: We can project on the dome of this planetarium any place in the night sky at any time in history. We can basically kind of play god and zoom around the universe and look at things close up.

Still, it’s Mother Nature who may have the last word on Saturday, so here’s hoping for a clear night.

The Central Virginia Star Party runs from 6 to 10 p.m. this Saturday.  Food and drinks — including hard cider — will be available for purchase, but attendees are welcome to bring picnic dinners and blankets. There will be craft projects for kids, an infrared camera just for fun, and astronomers on hand to answer questions both big and small (about the origin of the universe and the location of the porta-potties).  For updates on the weather and the schedule, go to the Star Party Facebook page.