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Astrofest: WAs largest event celebrating the International Year of Astronomy CREDIT: Scitech
Saturday 28th November 2009 is not a day I'm going to forget in a hurry. It was the culmination of a year of planning, many meetings and a lot of effort, resulting in the largest International Year of Astronomy event in Western Australia and the biggest star party the state has ever seen.

Almost exactly a year ago Pete Wheeler, then the manager of Horizon the Planetarium at Scitech, had the idea of running a large astronomy festival in Perth as part of IYA. The idea was to find a large space and have a big event, drawing in as large a number of people as we could, as a grand finale to the IYA celebrations in the state. When I got involved in the early stages of planning, I don't think I quite realised what I was taking on!

There were a lot of people involved in all of this, but the main organisers, "Team Astrofest", were Pete (now at ICRAR), Kelly at Scitech, and myself. Throughout the year there were numerous meetings of the wider group of people involved in the organisation: Scitech, BTOW, Curtin, Perth Observatory, AGWA, ASWA, the Mars Society Australia... basically everyone involved in the Astronomy WA collaboration. There were also visits to the venue, meetings with campus security and marketing, and lots of issues to solve. It was a lot of effort, but really it all went pretty smoothly for such a large-scale event.

Friday was spent running around picking up various items, shifting tables, display screens and chairs, and generally getting the venue ready to go. I met Pete at the venue at 8am, unloaded the van, then went round the city collecting show bags, bottles, telescopes, table cloths, prints, posters and so on, then arranging the venue. We didn't stop until about 8pm.

We'd expected, and planned for, a turn out of around 2000, but by Friday we had had almost 1000 pre-registrations through the Astronomy WA website. Since registration was optional, we were suddenly aware that we could have a very big crowd on our hands.

Saturday dawned clear and warm. Pete and Kelly picked me up at about half eight and I had a ride to the venue in the back of the van surrounded by kids models! Volunteers started turning up fairly soon after we arrived and the hall slowly came to life. Stalls started to appear, the big screen went up, telescopes started appearing on the oval, the outdoor PA was delivered and assembled, shade domes and marquees went up, the Moonwalker ride appeared, Victoria Park Scouts set up their barbecue, and an MWA tile was constructed. We couldn't have asked for better weather; it was clear all day with only a little bit of cirrus around during the afternoon, with a maximum temperature of 32 degrees. By lunchtime the venue was looking pretty good and things were generally going well. We had a briefing for all helpers in the main hall, then got set to welcome the public.

There was only a trickle at first, but it soon picked up and the hall started filling with families peering through telescopes, looking at The World At Night exhibition, examining the entries to the kids art and model competitions and the astrophotography competition, and talking to the helpers running the stalls. Outside the stadium we had a Kids Zone with fun activities, Scitech science shows, solar and lunar viewing, water rocket launching, and planetarium shows. We had a series of guest speakers on the main stage thoughout the day, each giving 20 minute talks on different astronomical topics, and the main guest speaker was Professor Fred Watson from the AAO talking about "Pluto and the uber-nerds".

After the main lecture, the event moved outside for an evening of telescope viewing organised by Peter Birch from Scitech. There were around sixty telescopes of all shapes and sizes provided by AGWA, BTOW, Perth Observatory, Scitech, Curtin and ASWA looking at a selection of different objects. We were also treated to a magnitude -8 Iridium flare at about 9.07pm which was pretty spectacular (we ordered it specially!).

By the time we finished packing up the hall, shifting the 300+ chairs and 50-odd tables back where they had come from, most people had left. There were still a few telescopes out observing and still quite a few members of the public enjoying the views, but it was 10.30pm and the event was supposed to be ending anyway. Those of us who were still left had a celebratory beer and then went on our way home to try and sleep.

Despite having done two very long days and not eating very much, I just couldn't sleep. I think it might have had something to do with the combination of caffeine, adrenalin and sugar... I can't speak for the rest of Team Astrofest, but having had a turnout of over 4000 (yes, that's four thousand, twice what we had hoped for), perfect weather and such a good event, I was on such a natural high that it will probably take a while to recover.

Huge, huge thanks go to everyone who helped out with the planning and organisation, all those who volunteered their time to set up and run stalls in the exhibition space and outdoor activities, the organisations who provided financial or in-kind support, everyone who entered the competitions, and of course all those who turned out on the day to enjoy the event.

Biggest thanks go to Pete and Kel for being such a great team to work with. I had a blast guys. Same time next year?

Posted by Megan on Monday 30th Nov 2009 (13:06 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink


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