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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

11th annual Black Forest Star Party Starts Friday

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Star Party Public Night
The 11th annual Black Forest Star Party will be held from Friday, September 10 – Sunday, September 12, 2010. This event, sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Observers of State College, was the first star party to ever be held at Cherry Springs State Park.

On Saturday evening of the 11th, the public is invited to visit with astronomers from 7:00 pm until 11:00 pm. This will allow visitors to arrive early enough to see the hundreds of telescopes that will be set up on the Astronomy Observation Field, then remain after dark to look through many of the scopes that will be volunteered for that evening.

Those interested in attending will park their vehicles on the south side of the park at the Night Sky Public Viewing area, then will walk across Rt. 44 to the Observation Field. Volunteer members of the Dark Sky Team will greet people at the gate and give them a red kit (if needed to cover up the white lens on their flashlights) and also to instruct them how to find the volunteer astronomers after dark.

Cherry Springs can become quite cool and damp at night so warm clothing is recommended along with proper footwear. Flip flops are NOT recommended. Absolutely no dogs will be permitted on the Observation Field due to the amount of equipment that is on the field and the safety of visitors and the dogs.

The Central Pennsylvania Observers began the Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) in 1999 with only a hundred or so astronomers attending. This year over 500 will attend. The 2002 BFSP was one of the most spectacular on record, as an amazing display of Northern Lights – the Aurora Borealis, lit up the sky for hours during the star party. While not typical, Aurorae may occur at any time when the sun’s solar cycle is active. Lately, the sun has been quiet, but some activity has been observed using the Park’s solar scope, which allows viewers to look directly at the sun’s surface.

Cherry Springs is one of the darkest sites in the Eastern United States and was designated a dark sky preserve by DCNR in 2000 managing the night sky as a natural resource, just like forest, waters and wildlife are managed in other natural areas. Then in June of 2007, the International Dark Sky Association designated Cherry Springs as a Gold Level International Dark Sky Park, only the second park in the world to receive distinguished recognition.

Under optimum conditions, the sky is so dark and clear at Cherry Springs, that the starlight from the Milky Way overhead can actually cast your shadow on the ground. Thousands of stars are visible at the park and combined with its 360 degree view of the night sky – it truly is an awesome experience and one that many will never forget.

Public stargazing programs are presented at the park from May until October. During the summer, the “Stars-n-Parks” program hosted by the National Public Observatory’s education director, Thom Bemus, takes visitors on a spectacular tour of the night sky, using the naked eye, binoculars and telescopes.

Greg Snowman, the Environmental Education Specialist along with Tim Morey, Natural Resource Specialist and several volunteer members of the Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund/Association Dark Sky Team, conduct public stargazing , moon gazing, and wildlife programs at the park during the programming season.

Program information is located at the Dark Sky Fund website at

www.csspdarkskyfund.org, or by visiting the DCNR calendar of events, or by calling the Lyman Run State Park office at (814) 435-5010.

The Dark Sky team recommends that each group bring along a small flashlight to use to navigate the field. As no white light is permitted on the Astronomy Observation Field, red cellophane and rubber bands will be handed out to cover flashlight lenses. Most people will find that their eyes will become dark adapted enough to find their way from one volunteer astronomer to another.

There will be a food concession stand open at the star party with a variety of food and drinks available to all. Participants in the program are asked to vacate the Observation Field by 11:00 pm so that those astronomers who volunteered their scopes can get back to observing. In the event of overcast or poor weather, this program will be cancelled.

A cancellation notice will be put on the answering machine at Lyman Run if you wish to check before driving out to the park. Cherry Springs State Park is located on Rt. 44 between Sweden Valley and Carter Camp and can be reached either by traveling on Rt. 44 or you can also come up West Branch Road out of Galeton, PA.

Be advised that this road is in lousy condition and vehicles should drive with caution. Any further inquiries can be directed to the Lyman Run State Park office which administers Cherry Springs.
Photo Credit: Terrence Dickenson – Summer Milky Way at Cherry Springs BFSP#2

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