Richmond Astronomical Society

November 2015 Fall RAS Picnic

Nov 22nd, 2015 | By | Category: Blog

Nice picnic!

We had a great picnic at Belmead. The food was outstanding, the company was excellent and the skies were clear and dark. A great combination. For those that have not been to Belmead, it is a beautiful dark sky location in Powhatan County with an extremely rich history.

North side of the Belmead mansion (image courtesy of David Medici)

North side of the Belmead mansion (image courtesy of David Medici)

After partially setting up my telescope, I rounded the corner of the Belmead mansion and I saw David Medici in chef’s uniform who led me to grilling area where Chefs Matthew Roy and David Medici were grilling burgers and chicken with grilled onions and bacon as toppings.

Chef Medici and Chef Roy

Chef Medici and Chef Roy

By this time, we also had an array of salads, cheeses, fruit, veggies and desserts deployed. The firepit was cranking and more visitors were gradually trickling in. This round of food was followed by more that gradually arrived and a second grill with beef and vegetables was deployed. We ate well.

Snapshot 1 (11-15-2015 12-30 PM)


Throughout the picnic, there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky and temperatures were cool but not cold, somewhere in the 50’s. We could easily see blue sky down to the horizon. As the afternoon proceeded, the firepit served as a place to warm our hands. Geri Venable, who is a docent with the museum at Belmead, provided impromptu tours of the mansion to several visitors who were interested in learning a bit of Belmead history.

12250073_10208024273993044_2312410472695959734_n(Jim Blowers)

Belmead Sky (image courtesy of Jim Blowers)

As darkness approached we moved to the parking area where the telescopes were ready and were treated to a continuation of the clear skies. The Milky Way and all of the stars in the Little Dipper were visible, which is my quick test for a high quality sky. Temperatures dropped into the 40’s and ultimately down to 30 in the early morning hours. It was a cold evening, but very tolerable with warm clothing. A couple of us did some imaging; most were visually observing, about 10-15 scopes in total at various times during the evening. We had several folks who were trying to figure out how best to set up their telescopes or resolve technical issues. Based on my conversations with the other astronomers, I think most had a productive night. My original imaging target, Messier 15, had dropped too low in the sky by the time all of my equipment was working properly (at the same time), so I returned to an old favorite for a quick imaging run, Messier 42, which was rising in the east. Early in the evening, the seeing was good with maybe a little softening later on. Overall it was an excellent night for observing.  Bryan Hartley and Dan Gaitanis captured several high quality images.

Messier 31 - the Andromeda Galaxy (image courtesy of Dan Gaitanis)

Messier 31 – the Andromeda Galaxy (image courtesy of Dan Gaitanis)

The Flame and Horsehead Nebulae in Orion (image courtesy Bryan Hartley)

The Flame and Horsehead Nebulae in Orion (image courtesy Bryan Hartley)


Messier 45 - the Pleiades Cluster (image courtesy of Bryan Hartley)

Messier 45 – the Pleiades Cluster (image courtesy of Bryan Hartley)

A few thanks are definitely in order. Thanks to Chefs Matthew Roy and David Medici for supplying us with delectable burgers, chicken, bacon and grilled onions; thanks to Demetrius Venable for the use of his grill, Sr. Maureen and the FrancisEmma organization for hosting us and thanks to all the visitors and astronomers who shared views of the night sky with us. Thanks to everyone else who brought food and fixings (and for the grilled beef).  And one more special thanks to Matthew Roy for coordinating the event.

That was a nice picnic!

Also, please remember to support the Francis Emma organization when you have the opportunity. Francis Emma is working very hard to preserve Belmead and tell its story. By preserving this amazing property and its history they are also preserving an important component of our local ecosystem and preserving a sanctuary for dark sky observing. To donate to Francis Emma or to learn more about the organization and its work go to The preservation / conservation work of Francis Emma at Belmead will have far-reaching benefits to the local community and to the amateur astronomy community as well. It is a cause that is very much worth supporting.  WRIC TV recently presented an excellent news piece on Belmead at this link:

WRIC story about Belmead

East view of the mansion approaching from the driveway (image courtesy of WRIC TV)

Did I mention that it was a nice picnic? Thanks again for all the good food and to all the friends of RAS and Belmead that attended.
Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

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