Starry Night Astronomy Talks Draw RV and Camping Enthusiasts into the Heavens

Bud and Cathy Bonetti have a life many could envy.

Both retired teachers, they spend their winters relaxing at a luxury RV resort in the Southern California desert and their summers working at a family campground in the Rocky Mountains.

“In spring and fall, we float around to wherever we want to explore,” Cathy Bonetti said.

But while the Bonettis enjoy visiting state and national parks and other scenic wonders, they also savor starry nights and learning as much as they can about the constellations, a passion fueled in part by the “Star Parties” they have attended at The Springs at Borrego RV Resort in Borrego Springs, California’s first and only International Dark Sky Community.

Famed astronomy author and photographer Dennis Mammana lives near the resort and leads periodic astronomy talks on a variety of topics, the latest of which was an overview of the Seven Wonders of the Universe.

“Dennis’s presentations are one of our most popular activities,” said Dan Wright, general manager of The Springs at Borrego RV Resort.

Mammana usually gives his 45-minute astronomy talks following a tasty dinner buffet at the resort’s clubhouse. He then leads the group to a section of the 143-site resort where several telescopes are set up so they can view the constellations.

“There’s no end to the discussion on astronomy,” Cathy Bonetti said. “They are constantly making new discoveries. But Dennis is fantastic. You can just feel his passion for astronomy. He gives us examples to help us comprehend black holes and dark matter. He also talks to us about what we’re viewing through the telescope.”

Mammana was scheduled to lead three more “Star Parties” at The Springs at Borrego RV Resort this winter and spring, including a March 3rd talk titled “Springtime in the Heavens,” an April 7 presentation titled “The Stars Belong to Everyone,” and a May 26 lecture on “Desert Moon Dreams.”

Further to the north, RV and camping enthusiasts who visit Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley, Calif., near Lake Tahoe, will have an opportunity to participate in an evening astronomy program on Saturday, May 18th by astronomer Adrienne Cool of San Francisco State University. The program will include a slideshow and opportunities to view planets, stars and nebulae through telescopes. The moon will be in its first quarter phase, which is ideal for stargazing.

Meanwhile, Mark and Kathy Kasper of Lazy River at Granville in Granville, Ohio are developing a stargazing program at their campground with assistance from NASA and a local university.

“The International Space Station just passed over with a good view on February 11,” Kathy Kasper said.

“It passes numerous times every day but is only readily seen when it is at least 40 degrees in the sky, which is about every six weeks. This is because it must be at a higher degree for it to be bright enough to see.

The reason they can only predict the viewing close to the time is because the orbit of the International Space Station is changing and periodically it must be re-boosted to a higher altitude. They cannot accurately predict it being readily observable more than two weeks ahead of time, but we will get an email from NASA telling us exactly what time we can see it and where to look. We should be able to see it five times this season.”

Kasper said there are several other astronomical events that will be of interest to camping and RVing enthusiasts across the country this year. These include:

  • The “Dance of the Planets,” May 24 to 30: Mercury, Venus and Jupiter will seem to dance around each other during this period and will change positions from one day to the next. “On May 28,” Kasper said, “the two brightest planets -- Venus and Jupiter -- will be very close with only one degree of separation between them. Venus will shine six times brighter than Jupiter.”
  • A Supermoon on Sunday, June 23, when a full moon coincides with the moon being at its closest point to Earth in 2013. This will make the moon appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter, Kasper said.
  • The Perseid Meteor Shower on Monday, Aug. 12: Up to 90 meteors per hour will be observed. “This year,” Kasper said, “the moon will be a couple of days before the first quarter and will set during the evening hours. This means the night sky will be dark, making it easier to see the meteor shower.”

Further east, the Herkimer KOA Kampground in Herkimer, N.Y. is expanding its Friday night astronomy program with the help of two graduate students and one undergraduate student, each of whom has majored in astronomy.

The park has Friday night programs called “Dancing with the Stars” and include an astronomy discussion, a night walk and guided time looking through telescopes. Topics of discussion range from the formation and life cycle of stars to the origins of astrology and the historic use of the constellations as a navigation tool.

“We’re going to take a look at all of the constellations and help our guests understand what’s prominent in the night sky in summer versus winter and how to navigate the night sky,” said Dr. Renee Scialdo Shevat, who co-owns the Herkimer KOA with her husband, Sam. “We’re going to have fun with astrology, too.”

The Herkimer KOA has also worked with Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries to design a special park model cabin that will be used at the campground as an astronomy education tool.

The unit, which will make its debut on Mother’s Day weekend, will be equipped with star charts and astronomy education resources as well as oversize skylights for stargazing and two observation decks, including an elevated deck that will be equipped with a telescope. Shevat said the unit will be available for rent and should be of particular interest to families that have an interest in sharing the wonders of astronomy with their children.