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Tuesday, October 20 2020 @ 04:23 am EDT

Mt Magazine and Amateur Astronomy

General NewsArkansas' highest point is Mt. Magazine at an altitude above sea level of 2,753 feet. With a new multi-million dollar lodge and cabins set to open (hopefully) on May 1st, and their Grand Re-Opening for the public on May 20th, amateur astronomers are working with the Park Rangers there to help make the park more astronomy-friendly for all! Visit their Mt Magazine website here for more information.

Arkansas' premier state park and lodge will open to the public on May 1st and the re-opening on May 20th. This image is from the front yard of Cabin 13 (soon to be re-numbered 14) This was a three-bedroom cabin where two or three amateurs might stay to share the costs.
It's a popular misconception, but you hear it all the time...."Mt Magazine is the highest point between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachians". While there are several specific points on a map that are slightly higher between America's two major mountain ranges, Mt. Magazine is unique. It's the highest point in AR, its surrounded by natural beauty, and it's accessible to amateur astronomers who want a great observing site.

On February 16th, AOAS Education Director Dr. Chuck Larson and myself attended a meeting with Wade Van Arsdale of the Little Rock area. Wade is a member of the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society (CAAS) and serves the club on their board. We met to discuss how Mt Magazine might better be suited to cater to amateur astronomers. The meeting was very good and we heard some encouraging words from the Park Interpreter about how some upcoming improvements at the park might indeed be helpful to amateur astronomers. Their Park Interpreter, Don Simons, took us all around for a guided tour of the entire park specifically to talk about how amateur astronomy could be better enjoyed at the park. He also made the suggestion that we might want to attend their Grand Re-Opening set for May 20th. I suggested that we might use some telescopes to do a little solar observing right in front of the Visitor's Center that day and he liked the idea.
From left to right, Dr. Chuck Larson, Bob Moody, and Wade Van Arsdale.

The President of CAAS, Stacy Edwards, has started a YahooGroup! page to help all Arkansas amateur astronomers meet and discuss all things astronomical. This is an excellent idea, and I hope that if you are an amateur astronomer wanting to see more cooperation happen right here at home, then you should definitely join this group yourself. I've met some other amateurs in our immediate area, but there might be a couple of hundred or more in the entire state and we all can use this YahooGroups! site to organize some cooperative events here close to home. That'd be a good way to begin planning some type of state-wide effort at holding a large star party somewhere in the state. An alternative to that might be to help any events that are already planned to become bigger and better. The ArkLaTex star party at Nashville, AR would be one example. It wouldn't be beyond what several clubs could do together to host something that's 2-4 days in length and with numerous speakers and a large number of vendors. These are the types of things that can be accomplished with the new Arkansas_Astronomy YahooGroups! web page, and even more over time.

Click read more for more images and the rest of this story.

Horse Camp observing area, the best place to observe for large numbers of amateur astronomers.
Many amateur astronomers know about the area around the top of Mt. Magazine and what is available right now for good observing sites. There's a place that people have told me about for years called Horse Camp where there's plenty of room to set up and view. I finally got to see this site for myself at this meeting. Here's an image of the area that I used a stitching program for connecting 3-4 of my images together. It's a large area, maybe 3 acres or slightly more, with level ground and fairly immune from the lights of cars on the nearby highway due to a slight hill at the entrance to the site. Area visitors use this spot to park their livestock trailers and saddle-up for horseback riding in the park. According to Don Simons, this area is scheduled to be turned into a camping area with modern, full-hookups at some point in the future. For the near future, though, he advises that amateurs may use this area to not only observe, but we may set up tents and RV's against the treeline to leave the center area for telescopes. There WILL be costs to camp here just as there would be for the developed area, and the costs will probably be the same.

We have been fortunate that Don has invited us to attend the Mt. Magazine State Park's Grand re-Opening day on May 20th and we're encouraged to bring some telescopes as well. Our current plans are for two or three telescopes to be set up there at the Visitor's Center for solar viewing that day. I plan to take our AOAS ETX 125EC with the solar filter I made for it using Baader filter material, and Chuck Larson also plans to set up his C-8 with his glass filter as well. With these telescopes set up right in front of the Visitor's Center, the public will be able to share the views of the sun with us through different types of telescopes with SAFE solar filtration systems. We might also set up a table nearby to advertise AOAS and astronomy in general, and we might also use this chance to give several presentations with Night Sky Network materials and toolkits.
Cabin number 1 with a good spot to set up a telescope just outside. The view from EVERY cabin is spectacular overlooking the Pettit Jean River Valley.
Don asks that we limit the daytime number of amateur telescopes that try to attend on the 20th due to the expected crowd in the thousands. That just means only a few telescopes set up for the daytime visitors. We also plan to stay until that evening to see for ourselves just how dark the skies on famous Mt Magazine really are, and as many others as might be interested would be welcome to do the same thing with us at the Horse Camp site.

The other image I include here is of the #1 cabin to the west of the Lodge facility. Don was hopeful that amateurs would want to use the two "bookend" cabins for astronomical observing as often as possible. The 13 cabins are stretched out along the bluff just as the Lodge is, and about half the cabins are on either side of the Lodge. It would be extremely helpful for amateur astronomers to book one-or-the-other of these two end cabins as often as possible. The more people who use the park facilities for astronomy, the more the park will think about how they design things in the future.

If you would also like to see good things happen for astronomy at Mt Magazine, come and join us on May 20th. You might also join the Arkansas_Astronomy YahooGroup! site to stay abreast of what's happening. But whatever you do, don't neglect to tell the Mt Magazine folks that you're an amateur astronomer every time you visit and use their facilities. Good things will come of these efforts over time, and we'll all benefit in the end.
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