Richmond Astronomical Society

Starquest 2009 Review

Jun 29th, 2009 | By | Category: Events

Wow–what a weekend. My wife and I could not resist going this year. This is an annual event, normally taking place around July 4 weekend, at the National Radio Observatory, Green Bank, WV. It’s about 4 hours from Richmond. Alan Bean, The 4th man to walk on the moon gave a talk, and we got a chance to have our photographs taken with him.alan_bean_20090627 He gave an outstanding talk, including some stories from his days as an astronaut, and some motivational points, as well.

For this final event of Starquest, I estimated about 250 people. Not all of them could fit into the auditorium, so people started lining up outside in the hallway so they would already be in line for the photo ops and autographing.

There were a few vendors there, mainly Camera Concepts and Burgess Optical.

I was only there for one day, Saturday, but I attended several lectures–Mark Kochte gave an excellent overview of the two recent Mercury missions, including many great photographs of Mercury from the mission.


Professor John Littleton gave as an overview of Lookin’ for Life–in the Solar System and Beyond. This was also well done, with a great timeline graphic of how life has developed on earth.

Dr. Michelle Shinn, of the Jefferson Lab though, gave what I thought was the most dynamic lecture of the day. She’s actually camera_concepts_20090627a member of the Back Bay club, so I thought that was pretty neat that she was a neighbor of our club (Richmond). Her enthusiasm for physics is infectious–you could tell she really enjoys her job. Here’s one highlight–she was describing how they’re building this super laser that’s capable of incinerating a gold target, which then produces exotic particles. A young astronomer in front of me, of I’d guess about 12 years, interjected “like in Spiderman 2?” Dr. Shinn took it in stride, and responded that no, that was in implosion, and we’re talking about an explosion here. I thought that was definitely a “priceless” moment.

A couple of stories from Alan Bean’s talk: He started off with a picture of him in a space suit, michelle_shinn_20090627hanging from some support cables. This was an attempt by NASA to simulate the moon’s gravity. The first attempts were not very successful, giving him the first “wedgie” of the space program.

Their rocket was struck by lightning before takeoff. After liftoff, the crew began to wonder if that affected the explosive bolts that blew off the protective shield in order for the parachutes to deploy after reentry. Mission control had no idea either, but they decided to proceed with the rest of the mission. In explaining afterward, the decision makers reasoned that if they brought crew home prematurely and they were killed, they might as well let the crew have the privilege of walking on the moon first, and then be killed. That broke up the audience.


We passed on the observing that was to take place that night, as it was getting late, and sky conditions were not that great anyway. We found a great little place to stay, only 10 miles from Green Bank. The Hermitage is $72 a night, and is in a very scenic spot, where Routes 28 and 250 meet. It even has a large field in the back, next to a nice little stream. We ate two meals at the motel’s restaurant, and they were both excellent. And very reasonably priced. We definitely recommend it for an overnight stay.

Unfortunately, we did not win any door prizes, but they had some great ones. I was gratified that one of the biggest prizes, a refractor, was won by a young adult. I also noticed that there were a few teenagers sprinkled among the audience lectures. As I don’t see many youngsters at star conventions, this is a great sign that there is still some interest in astronomy in the young generation.

This was my first Starquest, but as my wife put it, it was one of our best weekeends ever. We’ll be going again.

Leave a comment »

  1. Great review Terry! I see you were representing the RAS proudly.

  2. Great review – wish I could have been there!

  3. Hi Terry, (I’m not sure I’m still an RAS member — I think so), but I was there for the whole event. Unfortunately I didn’t attend any of the lectures — stayed up way too late every night viewing. Was my first — but not last — Star Quest. Sky not quite as dark as Spruce Knob but the facilities, meals and the folks running it are wonderful. lots of great hiking in the area, too. The Iridium flare, the subsequent shooting star and the banter back and forth over the field that first night was great fun.

  4. Terry
    the whole event can be seen on YouTube (my site)
    just click on Green Bank
    Dale from BBAA