The 9th Star Party
August 29-31, 1997 on Gurnigel Pass in Bernese Alps


It was Friday morning, 29th August 1997. From my balcony I gazed across the Surselva in Upper Graubünden. Thick clouds hung over the valley and almost blacked out the sun completely. There where the clouds broke one once in a while one could spy out a mountain peak, covered in snow from the previous day's snowfalls at high altitudes. The weatherforecast might have promised fine weather, but what I saw made me doubt if we'd see anything at our Star Party. I dropped my plans for a three-pass journey across Oberalp, Furka and Grimsel. Perhaps on the way back, I told myself. So around noon I got underway from Brigels via Zurich onto the Gurnigel to alas, after 7 hours and a detour of more than 350 km, arrive upon the said mountain.

  Friday

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   The weather in the Bernese Oberland did indeed look promising. After a welcome tour and occupation of my room for the night's stay, I fortified myself for the night's observations by means of a sirloin steak with Café de Paris sauce.
Around 10 pm it was completely dark and, having been the last one to dine, it wasn't much of a wonder that I should have been the last one to arrive at the observerving site. The limited space was already more than well occupied and I had some trouble findiing a spot for my instrument. But eventually I did succeed in finding myself my own little piece of soil and to put to use yet another one of the popular Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes that night.
The following tour led to us all getting a overview of the range of atronomic instruments at our disposal. To everyone's enjoyment somehow once again some Dobson telescopes had found their way onto the Gurnigel. Three of these light cannons with apertures between 40 and 50 cm stood ready to open up the view into the depths of space. Further there was refractors, Cassegrains, Schmidt-Cassegrains and Newtons of reputable manufacturers abound. Despite the Dobsons the purchasable telescopes were in a clear majority.
And the sky? Given enough time for the eyes to adapt to the darkness one could make out a beautiful galaxy urban animals hardly lay eyes on. The weather was indeed very good and the sky that clear that would could indeed call it a near perfect night. Only the tranparency could have been a little better. Whilst I ogled at M22 and M25 in Sagittarius through my C8, many a visitor took a skytour in across the Swan, the Cirrus Nebula and other galactic highlights. Others were introduced to the secrets of digital astronomy. With ST-7 and much know-how the skies were opened up. The night passed quickly and the imagination that the next day should bring bad weather seemed hard to believe.

Saturday

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   As I crawled out of my sleeping bag next morning, the heavens weren't much fun to behold. The sky was grey, hung with dense cloud from which sporadicily rain would fall. So your face was evidently a long one that morning. Even the coffee couldn't help. Maybe it was 'Kaffee Hag'?
This day was best spent indoors. At a long table there was much debate, photo albums were looked at, magazines screwed up and on a laptop we 'dry surfed' for the latest astro!nfo. Others, sick of the brick-red colour of the floor created a vertiable carpet of Hale-Bopp photographs. With astronomical delicatesses, lunch time and sheer ice cream gluttony it soon became afternoon and often some of us would find their way onto the yard to critically check out the sky. But at this time there was not a single break to be found in the cloud cover.
Some of the faces had also changed by now. Some people had already left while others were only just arriving. One of these new arrivals was Beat Fankhauser. Once again he let us adore his 4-inch Questar telescope, which is such a beauty one might be tempted to place it in a glass showcase rather than use it at all. Through this thoroughbred we then could examine a ten-franc not to impress on ourselves the precision of the otpics. Indeed, the picture was, despite the inferior lighting in the room, that good, as to let one notice the slightest flaw across the surface of the note. Many a person gathered would have wished for such quality in their own instruments. If it only weren't that expensive... With examining banknotes it soon was evening and, after calming down the personel at the restaurant for having disturbed their tableset (who arranges the dishes two days in advance?), we took to eating dinner.
The sky opened up at dusk and let us hope for the night. As after a hearty meal preparations were made for the night, the western skies were still cloaked by thick cloud. Despite this the telescopes were set up anew and everyone waited for the earthly veil to lift and make way for the celestial one. At first though this was not to happen. Once or twice very bright stars managed to get through to us, and when one might get a glimpse of the milky way the heartbeat accelerated. I used this time to test the visual ability of the visitors to adapt to a photocamera's flash. The blinded I'd like to beg for forgiveness, and hope to at least partially copensate them with the pictures on this page.
It was almost midnight by the time the fog finally began to disolve, leaving the sky to the stars. Conditions were now even better than duting the previous night and the acitivy around the instruments came close to feverpitch at times. There was lots of observation, photographing going on. CCD cameras were in use and constant debate took place. Once more the Dobsons took center stage, opening up the beauties of the cosmos to all observers. The ability to debate on the spot the objects in the viewfinders is the main attraction to such meetings and cannot be substituted by anything else. Meanwhile I tried myself on a galactic fire-fly. The planetary nebula NGC 7139 in Cepheus was that weak, it hardly was visible on a C8 and little more was to be seen on a 50 cm Dobson. At least the Helix nebula was more forthcoming, clearly visibel as a bleak, round blot in the sky.
Though also this night eventually came to an end and against three o'clock in the morning I found myself standing alone at the observing site, almost. Besides a few colleagues from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, a German gentleman, who'd arrived here with his campervan and was watching the skies with an 80 cm refractor on a photo-tripod, was still present. We debated for a while and I looked at Saturn through his 'gun'. The planet appeared, as would be expected, not very large, but exceptionally sharp and clear on an ink-black sky. Astronomy doesn't always require giant vizors and Fluorite glasses, also humble aids can open up the sky to an attentive observer. But after this, I had to make an end to it and dragged my heavy limbs back to the sleeping quarters where I crawled into my sleeping bag.

Sunday




   Sunday was a clear bright summer's day and was nature's invitation to go wandering. Though the tired looking figures hunched around the breakfast table were hardly to be had for such exertions. Eventually it was time to say good bye from one of the most successful Star Parties I have ever taken part in. During the two days all in all around 50 visitors had taken part. People from the Ticino (Italian-speaking Switzerland), the Romandie (French-speaking Switzerland) and German-speaking Swiss, we also met visitors from Germany and even some Americans who worked in Germany. So it was not merely a national but indeed an international Starparty.
My voyage across the three passes Grimsel, Furka and Oberalp back into the Surselva in Canton Graubünden was truly brilliant.

German text: Bruno Bleiker, Dübendorf/ZH
Translation: Franco Lorenzo Cavazzi, Bristol/UK
Photos: Bruno Bleiker, Bernd Nies
CCD: Martin Mutti, Oberwichtrach/BE