Joe Shuster

On May 4-5 I attended the Northeast Astro-Imaging Conference (NEAIC) at Rockland College in Suffern, NY. This was followed by the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) also held at the college on May 6 and 7. It was my first visit to NEAF and this was the very first NEAIC event. The conference and forum were arranged and (co-) sponsored by the venerable and ambitious Rockland Astronomy Club.

NEAIC consisted of two days of conferences in four different tracks: Deep Sky, Planetary, DSLR, and Photometry/Spectroscopy. Keynote speakers kicked off each day's events and simultaneous sessions were held during the rest of the day. NEAIC featured a very small showcase for vendors - mostly high-end mount, optics and camera manufacturers and distributors.

For me, the highlights of NEAIC were the two keynote presentations by Rob Gendler and Tony Hallas. They are among the best imagers worldwide and they shared some of their philosophies and tactics for developing their wonderful images. There are some amusing anecdotes about imaging. For example, Rob Gendler produced a mosaic of M31 that is about 22,000 by 14,500 pixels. Meanwhile, NASA was planning on publishing a new Hubble mosaic as the "World's Largest" mosaic, but after they discovered Gendler's M31 the Hubble image was just the "World's Largest Non-Hobby" mosaic.

Ron Dantowitz spoke about several of his adventures in high-resolution imaging, including the time he inadvertently flashed the ISS with a military-quality laser while the astronauts were near the window. (It wasn't his fault - the Russians messed up and no one on the ISS was injured.)

I would estimate about 100-120 attendees at NEAIC with a mix of relative novices and ultra-veterans. The conference seemed to suit everyone's expectations and there was optimism that the even would be held annually. I certainly felt that the lessons learned were worth the expense of travel, fees and lodging (especially in conjunction with NEAF).

NEAF is a well-established astronomy convention that draws many east-coast vendors and distributors. The convention annually coincides with the Astronomical Union's designation of Astronomy Day. The even consists of lectures, daylight solar viewing and (most popularly) the very large tradeshow floor.

I didn't attend many of the lectures but one I did enjoy very much was a presentation by Sue French called "Observing 30 Objects You Probably Never Heard Of". (She was right!) Sue is a regular writer for S&T and she has a great way of explaining why an object is worth pursuing or imaging.

The mainstream vendors - Celestron, Orion, and Meade - had moderate representation with Meade showing the most products. Celestron showed the Sky Scout - a tool that allows you to aim the 1x viewfinder at an object and get information about what you are looking at. It can also find an object in its database and give you directions on where to look. The device relies on internal sensors, including GPS.

On of the "main events" at NEAF is the annual sale of Televue's production rejects, aka "blems". A "NEAF blem" is considered to be optically equivalent to TV's products at a fraction of the price due to small cosmetic flaws. This was my first NEAF and I joined the line early on Saturday morning to get the best selection for the cash "as-is" purchases. The eyepiece selection was a little limited, but I did pick up a great deal on a 2" 2x Powermate and a Nagler 4.8mm eyepiece at less than half the retail costs.

On the floor you could find monstrous Dobs, domes, 8" binoculars, books, jewelry telescope miniatures, cameras, filters, eyepieces, mounts, OTA's (carbon fiber is "in"), focusers and anything else you can think of.

Outside in the "solar viewing garden" there was a huge menagerie of different size and type telescopes. PST's were popular (including some bino-PSTs). There were many 3-6" refractors with hydrogen alpha filters for detailed solar viewing and even a radio solar observer. The sun was relatively quiet but there was a nice active flare visible on Sunday.

I had a great time at NEAF and if you are hoping to see a variety of products it would be hard to do better than the NEAF exposition. I wasn't too eager to sit through the NEAF lectures but that was probably due to the two previous days devoted to NEAIC lectures. If you want to hit the floor and pick up some Televue blems, you could probably fly out late on a Friday, hit NEAF and catch a late Saturday night flight home to minimize expenses.

I posted some of my images from NEAF and NEAIC on my flickr Photos site.

Rob Gendler:
Tony Hallas:
Rockland Astronomy Club:

Published in the June 2006 issue of the NightTimes