One of the highest annual star parties in Europe drew 250 people on the weekend of September 1719 to the grassy mountain slopes above the small town of Greifenburg in southern Austria. Known as the Internationales Teleskoptreffen, or ITT (International Telescope Meeting), the event took place in and around the Emberger Alm Hotel at 1,700 meters (5,600 feet). It was the ITT's 20th annual meeting, and its 9th at this location.
The site is becoming well known for astronomy. About 10 to 30 observers normally show up each new-Moon weekend, resulting in a small star party every month. Two telescopes are permanently mounted on the hotel grounds and can be rented for a night: a Meade 12-inch LX200 and a 17.5-inch Newtonian reflector. Local publicity has alerted area politicians to the light-pollution issue, leading them to block a planned sky-beam light in the valley of the River Drau. Astronomy is clearly valued for bringing tourists to the area.
Bad weather threatened this year's event from the start, with early arrivals finding low clouds that sometimes restricted visibility to less than 50 meters. So the mood among attendees was chilly until Wolfgang Ransburg, one of the organizers, announced during dinner on Friday that the sky was finally clearing.
The time before dark was filled by discussions among enthusiasts, who came from as far as Belgium, Germany, and Norway. W. Rohr and R. Bugiel offered their knowledge on testing and cleaning optics, and software authors explained how to use their products to process astronomical images. Such exchanges of experiences, knowledge, and technical tricks play an important role in making a star party a success.
By 9 p.m. everyone was out observing or photographing. Several dealers set up telescopes for display and demonstrations. Amateurs with home-built telescopes were happy to show off celestial objects, so that one could wander between views of the Helix Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, and Uranus.
During daytime on Saturday, one could share views of the Sun projected onto a large screen or seen through the latest H-alpha filters on high-end refractors. Some people hiked the mountains during the day, while others slept in preparation for the coming night. Some displayed their equipment. Eckhart Fuchs drove 1,800 kilometers from Norway with his newly made 18-inch Dobsonian, shown at top. Just as impressive as the telescope were the homemade fixtures in his small car for holding the telescope parts secured to the walls for easy traveling.
Next year's event will be held from September 30th to October 2nd, again at the Emberger Alm. The gathering is organized by the local club "Stella Carinthia." More information is available at http://www.embergeralm.info/stella/ (in German).