Great progress has been made in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. However, due to the continuing uncertainty, the ORAS Board has decided to close this year's AstroBlast event to the general public. Instead, we will hold a 'Members Only' star party between August 10 and August 15, with the event being open only to ORAS members.
We will use the event to provide member training on using the observatory facility. This will include how to open/close the observatory roof and training on the three observatory telescopes: a 30" f/3 Starstructure GOTO reflector telescope, a Celestron 14" SCT GEM pier-mounted telescope, and a Meade 14" LX200 equatorial tripod-mounted telescope. Additionally, we will be offering member-led sessions on beginning astrophotography, deep-sky sketching, constellation identification, and night sky mythology, along with other activities TBD.
The Board encourages anyone who is interested to consider becoming an ORAS member and joining us at the event. This will give you a chance to network with other ORAS members and learn how to operate the observatory.
ORAS will look forward to hosting an open AstroBlast in 2022. We'll see you all then.
What is AstroBlast?
AstroBlast is a regional gathering of amateur astronomers and anyone interested in astronomy! In June 1994, AstroBlast became an annual event hosted by ORAS. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has caused us to cancel the event in 2020 and 2021. Typically AstroBlast is held at the Oil Region Astronomy Learning Center. Our event features lectures, information, educational sessions, and dark sky observing.
AstroBlast is open to registered participants only. Beginners are strongly encouraged to attend! One of the benefits of our observatory's remote location is the truly dark sky we get each night. As you may already know, we are located far from the lights of any city plagued by light pollution.
Scenes from AstroBlast 2018, courtesy of Larry McHenry.
What to Bring to AstroBlast
Our 30" f/3 Starstructure telescope will be available for viewing by AstroBlast participants. Our site also offers great dark sky observing for those using their own equipment. Participants are invited to bring their own telescopes or binoculars.
If you will be staying overnight, you should plan to bring a tent or a suitable vehicle with you. There will be simple meals available for purchase Friday evening and Saturday for lunch. We will also have a pizza party on Saturday evening. You can bring and prepare your own food instead, if you're so inclined. You should also bring a personal supply of water, hiking equipment (optional), sunscreen, blankets or a sleeping bag, and a flashlight with a red filter. And, of course, bring yourself and all of your friends who are interested in astronomy!
See our About Events page for instructions on how to make a red filter for a flashlight.
Where to Stay and Where to Eat
We have several electrical outlets available on pedestals in the observing field for operating telescopes and other low-wattage devices. We have electrical outlets in the observatory and in the Activity Building, which will allow you to recharge some electronic devices. There is also a WiFi connection at the site. As for meals, we will have a gas grill and a microwave available for visitors to share, and we're planning a Saturday night pizza party. There will be simple meals available for purchase on Friday evening and Saturday for lunch. Or you may wish to patronize one of the restaurants in the nearby town of Knox, or one of the eateries near the Cranberry Mall. There are a number of restaurants in Seneca, directly to the north of the mall.
For groceries, please note that Hirsch's Meats, which is at the intersection of Route 322, Route 338, and Camp Coffman Road, functions as a local convenience store, as well as a meat market. Its hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday (closed Sunday). Also, Schreffler's Snack Shack, at 1552 Route 322, offers a variety of options for meals and ice cream. It's open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In case you prefer to stay in a hotel during AstroBlast, there's one not far from the Cranberry Mall. This is the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites, in Seneca. Slightly further away is the Days Inn Oil City Conference Center. Clarion has a number of hotels available as well. If you'd like to check out possibilities for other accommodations, you can find them on the website of the Oil Region Alliance.
General rules of AstroBlast
- If you use a flashlight, please use a red lens or lamp, or tape several layers of red cellophane over the lens.
- Participants who drive: Parking during dark hours will be located near the activity building, at a lower level than the observing field. Please park with headlights facing away from the field.
- There will be no vehicle entry or exit allowed from the observing field after dark.
- Dogs and cats are permitted at AstroBlast. Dogs must remain on a leash, and dogs and cats are the sole responsibility of their owner. Please clean up after your dog! Other animals are not permitted on site for AstroBlast. No animals other than leashed service animals are allowed in the observatory.
- Please be courteous to other participants, and don't touch anyone else's equipment without their permission.
- Generators must be turned off between the hours of 10 p.m. and 10 a.m., to allow our visitors to sleep.
These rules are intended to ensure a dark sky, a fun time, and the safety of all our participants. Thank you!
What Else to do in the Neighborhood
There are a number of tourist attractions in the general vicinity. The Sandy Creek Trail, a rails-to-trails trail that leads from the nearby village of Van to the Allegheny River and beyond, is located within ten miles of the observing site. This trail is a wonderful place for bicycling or walking in the woods. Cook Forest State Park has a fabulous collection of old-growth trees, many of them over 100 feet tall. There are also many things to see and do in Oil City, Franklin, Titusville, and the region around Clarion. Be sure to visit the Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville and learn how Pennsylvania’s Oil Region got its name – and how this region changed the world.
Venango County and Clarion County feature additional tourist attractions.
Group photo from AstroBlast 2019, courtesy of Steve Behringer