9/6/2012 - Asheville Adventure: Mount Mitchell Star Party
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times
What: Mount Mitchell Star Party.
When: 8-10:30 p.m. Saturday.
Details: What better place to examine the stars than from the top of the world?
If you're in North Carolina, the top of the world is Mount Mitchell, which is the highest point in the state, as well as the eastern half of the country, at 6,684 feet elevation.
Mount Mitchell, tucked away in the Black Mountains, is also far from urban centers and their light pollution, making it an even more ideal spot for checking out the night sky.
The park, along with N.C. High Peaks Trail Association, Blue Ridge Astronomy Group, Astronomy Club of Asheville, and other local astronomy groups, will present the inaugural Mount Mitchell Star Party after dark on Saturday, where people can view stars and planets in the night sky.
"This is going to be the highest star party ever in the Eastern United States," said Bob Hampton, president and founder of the Blue Ridge Astronomy Group, based in Burnsville.
"We'll get above atmosphere. We'll be looking at lots of different things -- galaxies, nebulas, globular star clusters -- and there will be a couple of planets -- Uranus and Neptune -- and Earth-orbiting satellites."
The state park is giving special permission for folks to come in after dark. Sunset is at 7:36 p.m. on Saturday, but the park is open all day, so feel free to arrive any time during the day for a hike, a picnic or a visit to the park's museum. The park will close at 10:30 p.m.
There will be telescopes set up for the public, but astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts are also encouraged to bring their own.
Hampton suggests bringing a red flashlight, which doesn't interfere with night vision. He chose this weekend for the party because it would be a moonless night.
"When the moon is out, it brightens out the sky and it's harder to see the stars. On Mount Mitchell we won't have the light pollution that there is in other places, so we will have chance to see everything there is at night," he said.
The astronomy club hosts a star party every season in Burnsville, called Stars on the Square. The next one will be Oct. 20. The club is also in the process of building an observatory in Yancey County, set to open next year, which will be a permanent, public observatory at Mayland Community College with the largest telescope in North Carolina.
The High Peaks Trail Association, which also serves at the Friends of Mount Mitchell State Park, will have light refreshments for visitors. In case of poor weather, the backup date for the Star Party will be Sept. 15.
Directions: From Asheville, take the Blue Ridge Parkway north for about 30 miles to Milepost 355 and turn left onto N.C. 128, which leads into the park.
Information: For more on the Blue Ridge Astronomy Club, call Bob Hampton at 675-4449, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.blueridgeastronomygroup.com. For more on the Astronomy Club of Asheville, visit www.astroasheville.org.
For Mount Mitchell State Park information, call 675-4611. For updated road and weather conditions on the Blue Ridge Parkway, call 298-0398.