11th STAR PARTY
August 13-15, 1999
on top of Gurnigel in the Bernese Alps

... just two days after the total eclipse of the Sun in Europe


You won't believe it ... this year a big wonder happened: WE COULD SEE STARS !!! Despite some clouds the first night from Friday to Saturday was clear. I'll try to give a brief report of this event.

Friday

I arrived late to the Star Party, around midnight, because I wanted to first scan my slides from the Solar Eclipse and put them on the web (We had had great luck viewing the eclipse on a mown grain field in the environment of Verdun, France).

I drove to the observing place (which is originally a shooting place for military usage) with my headlights turned off (fortunately I didn't hit a telescope) and set up my own telescope in silence. Some recognized first the 300mm f/4 Newtonian and then its owner. Astronomers are just shadows and voices in the darkness.

There were many telescopes gathered on the southern part of the place. The biggest was a huge 30" Dobsonian from Luxenbourg which had its first light that night. Obviously due to the recent Solar Eclipse this year's Star Party had a rather international composition: Mr. Kasai came with a half dozen Japanese, and there were also three Americans, and other people from Luxembourg, Italy and Germany. Of course, the usual Swiss astronomers were there, too. Most of them hadn't had any luck with the Solar Eclipse and saw European rain that fell a bit darker than usual on that special day.

Some clouds covered the sky at about one o'clock and we warmed up at a grill and ate some sausages. Some of the astronomers dwelling in villages not far away drove home. A good genie was with us and the sky cleared up again so that we were able to observe many wonderful objects till four o'clock in the morning. The air was still and the view of Jupiter and Saturn through the larger refractors was breathtaking. Throughout the night many shooting stars crossed the sky. Some of them were rather big and exploded in the upper atmosphere. It was the maximum of the Perseids meteor stream. Unfortunately no one hit the ground.

Saturday

After a hard night (some were snoring in the dormitory - ear plugs recommmended!) the weather the next morning didn't look promising. Tired as we were we had a big brunch until midday. In the afternoon we visited a Russian rocket launch base. No, just kidding ... ;-) it's the private observatory of Radek Chromik and Bernhard Blank.

We spent the afternoon and early evening talking and laughing, showing pictures and video clips from the Solar Eclipse, playing cards or Trivial Pursuit. Michael Koch set up his beautiful little homemade travelling Dobsonian and the Japanese were very amazed, staring with big eyes at the Dobsonian and taking lots of pictures. Maybe they will copy it soon. Sorry, don't take this too seriously. ;-)

Thick clouds hung over Gurnigel but in the evening it began to clear up. Suddenly the sky was clear and we decided to set up a Dobsonian on the observing site. But while approaching the shooting place the clouds drew back over the sky and it began to rain when we stood there, hoping for stars. We met some star gazers from the French speaking part of Switzerland who arrived this evening. The situation was so depressing that some began to sing awfully in the rain (greetings from Assurancetourix) until one West-Goth came from the North and complained about the light and sound pollution at this Star Party. Unfortunately, a Star Party is never a good opportunity for taking astronomical photographs. So we retourned to the restaurant and spent the rest of the night talking and playing cards.

Sunday

For the very first time in the 11-year history of this Star Party the Sunday morning was not clear and beautiful, but was cold and rainy. As a result, many of us drove back home in the early afternoon. Three astronomers played a big 3D puzzle, trying to tuck away all of the luggage of the Japanese stargazers into their cars. The then drove them to Interlaken, where they planned to visit the Jungrau Joch Observatory.

P.S.: One idea to do good deeds and earn money is to hold Star Parties in deserts. It surely will rain that time and make from dry land fruitful soil. The next Star Party will be held in the Sahara desert. :-)

Bernd Nies,
with assistance of Jeannie Urbanski