OCA Webmaster - Liam Kennedy was one of just 85 amateurs from around the
world to be chosen for a unique event which took place in Huntsville,
AL on April 13th and 14th 2000.
The event - "the High Energy Astrophysics
workshop for Amateur Astronomers" was sponsored by the
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and hosted by the American
Association of Variable Star Observers.
My introduction to this event was
via an email from OCA president Russell Sipe. The email was
asking for interested amateurs to make an application to the
AAVSO before being admitted onto the workshop. I am definitely
not an expert in High Energy Astrophysics, however I do have
an interest in the exploring the knoweldge and ideas in this
are - and in view of the fact there was only a few days left
to apply - I decided to submit an application myself.
To my surprise about 10 days later
I received an email from the AAVSO informing me I was accepted
onto the workshop - and that I had also received a small grant
from NASA to help with travel costs.
Although I am not a member of the
AAVSO, I was somewhat aware of what this organization does
from the fact that we have many members within the OCA who
submit their own variable star observations to this internationally
I had very little idea on what to expect of the workshop
and I must admit to a certain feeling of trepidation
when I finally arrived at Huntsville Airport especially
when I found myself sharing the hotel shuttle with a
gentleman from NM who runs a 24" telescope privately
and was the first amateur astronomer to observe the
visual afterglow of a Gamma Ray Burst. I was beginning
to think I was perhaps out of my league.
Imagine also my surprise to look out the window of
the shuttle bus as we were approaching the hotel and
find myself looking at a full size Saturn 5 rocket towering
to the sky. The Hotel is sited adjacent to the US Space
and Rocket Center - also the official space camp where
hopeful future astronauts get a chance to immerse themselves
in every aspect of NASA exploration.
Thankfully I found out that I was
one of a wide spectrum of amateurs - in fact over 85 of us
in total. The first evening (April 12th) the AAVSO and NASA
put on an informal reception where attendees could meet and
socialize together and with some of the AAVSO management and
NASA scientists who would be presenting some of the sessions
over the next few days.
This photograph, taken at the welcome reception includes
some of the major organizers and contributors to the
event including Janet Mattei, director of the AAVSO
(center seated) and Dr Jerry Fishman of Nasa (Top left).
This is what Janet has
to say about event and the people who were selected to attend;
"We selected the attendees
in part by asking how they would share their knowledge with
others," says Janet Mattei, director of the American Association
of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), which is co-sponsoring
the meeting along with the Marshall Space Flight Center.
"We got some fantastic responses from astronomy club presidents,
planetarium workers, and teachers ... just wonderful responses.
There's a real need to bring high-energy astronomy to the
attention of the public, and we think these are the right
people to do it."
* quote from news
article from NASA on the event.
Below is a photo showing
all of the attendees and most of the presenters as photographed
outside the Space & Rocket Center
The workshop started
in earnest on the Thursday morning with introductions from
Janet leading into the first introductory session by Dr Jerry
Fishman (chief Scientist for Gamma Ray observing at NASA).
Jerry provided a great overview of the wide spectrum that
High Energy Astrophysics covers - which was an excellent introduction
to the remaining seminars we were to be treated with.
The workshop continued
into the evening with a special lecture on the Crab Nebula
given by Dr Martin Weisskopf (chief scientist for Chandra)
at the Vonn Braun Planetarium.
Not knowing quite what
to expect of the sessions - and how detailed they may be -
I decided to video tape as much of the workshop as possible
using my own Digital Camcorder. I came away from the workshop
with over 10 hours of recorded DV - which I am now going through
in detail. I have created a VHS tape and CD-ROM of the presentation
by Dr Weisskopf on the Crab Nebula - which I will be sure
to share with the club members at an appropriate time.
I left the workshop having
made contact with numerous amateur astronomers and groups
from around the country and even further afield. The workshop
was fantastic both for the technical information that was
presented - but also for the connection that Amateurs and
Professionals made with one-another. I was certainly very
privileged to be able to attend this great event.
I will be creating a
much more detailed report on the event - and some further
articles on the whole area of High Energy Astrophysics.
In the meantime you can
check out a summary of the event as created by NASA here
and also by the AAVSO here.