Wish upon a star

A couple of weeks ago I attended Nova East, the year-end gathering of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), at Smiley’s Provincial Park just outside Windsor, Nova Scotia.  The group gathers there every year around the same time for three days to set up their tents and trailers for a good old-fashioned camp out.

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What makes this different from most camping events is that everyone brings a telescope.  The variety of scopes is amazing, from small to very big and everyone is enthusiastic about spending a couple nights under the stars.

This year, Nova East was hosting Atlantic Photo Supply for a night of public viewing.  We invited our customers and friends to come down to the park to have a look through the many telescopes and to get a tour of the night sky with one of the many astronomers present.  Also this year we were asking people who showed up to make a donation to the Children’s Wish Foundation. They are our chosen charity in our "Pay It Forward" campaign.

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The evening started with a few presentations before dark by a number of presenters from RASC in preparation for what we hoped would be a great evening of viewing.  The skies, however, were not cooperating.  For most of the evening as skies darkened they were covered by cloud and to make it worse – to the south and west of the park it was clear but not heading our way very fast.

I crossed my fingers and was assured by many present that there was a pretty good chance the skies would clear, at least for a couple hours.

While we waited for the skies to darken and in between presentations I got out my Phantom Vision 2 quadcopter and gave a brief demo to all those present.  I think everyone was more interested in it than the new Celestron Evolution telescope I brought.  I guess that’s understandable – telescopes they’ve seen; flying cameras... well, maybe not so much.

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The sky grew dark and sure enough it cleared.  As people gathered, Paul Heath - the current president of the Halifax center of RASC - gave a fascinating tour of the night sky as he pointed out constellations, stars, nebula, and galaxies.  He waved his laser pointer around the sky and told stories about the various things we could see and held us all, well, spellbound.

Throughout the evening I think I heard Paul give the tour at least two more times and small crowds of people moved from scope to scope with the hopes of seeing something really cool.

One thing we never really thought out was how do you accept donations from people when it’s pitch black, flashlights or other lights are discouraged, and you can barely see your hand in front of your face?  Paul, when he finished his night sky tour, made sure to remind people to make a donation to Children’s Wish, and those who found me did give generously. 

As the night progressed and the clouds started to threaten things quieted down a bit and we packed it in for the night while the folks from RASC optimistically continued to work with their scopes, viewing and taking pictures.  Our tally for the evening was a little less than $150.00.

A couple days after the event I got a call from Blair MacDonald, one of the organizers of Nova East, with some unexpected news – the weekend gathering had gone really well for RASC this year and they had some extra funds left over and wanted to make a donation to Children’s Wish.  Late last week Blair dropped off a cheque for $200.00 from the Halifax Centre of RASC as a donation.  Fantastic!

All in all it was a great event – the weather wasn’t the best, but this is Nova Scotia.  At least this year they weren’t chased from the park by a hurricane as they had a couple times in the past few years.  We look forward to doing it again.

Every year in January or February we have a star party in our parking lot outside our Dartmouth store. 

Perhaps once again we’ll ask people to wish upon a star for Children’s Wish.

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