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Mid South Star Gaze

Mid South Star Gaze logo

Location - 1/2 mile east of French Camp, Mississippi
Time - April
Length - Five days (Wednesday through Sunday)
Size - Up to 150 (typical)
Website - http://www.rainwaterobservatory.org/stargaze
My Mid South Star Gaze images

Imagine a beautiful rolling, green countryside. Now imagine a hill covered in telescopes, observatories and about every kind of astronomical gadget made. Add a planetarium, NASA TV feed, astronomical library, educational materials, a bunkhouse, meeting room, pavilion and some of the biggest roast beef sandwiches you've ever seen, all followed by dark skies at night.

That's the Mid South Star Gaze. The driving force behind the event each year is Jim Hill (of the French Camp Academy), assisted by volunteers mostly from Mississippi and Louisiana. The French Camp Academy is a Christian institution providing services to young people from broken homes for more than a century. The Rainwater Observatory is a part of the educational services of the Academy. The town, which consists basically of the Academy and a couple of small stores, is located roughly halfway between Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi, on the Natchez Trace Parkway. Driving the Trace up from Jackson to French Camp (about 80 miles) is pleasant, but I prefer to take I-55 north to Durant, then across to Kosciusko and drive the Trace for the final 15 miles. The Trace is a very pretty drive, but 80 miles at (a stringently enforced) 50 MPH is a bit long for me...

When the MSSG got underway in the early 90's, lodging was limited to camping beside your scope or staying the summer cabins at the Academy (about a 2 mile drive). Since then, a bunkhouse at the observatory has been built with a meeting room downstairs. However, there's always been the Bed & Breakfast in French Camp, but if you want to stay there, you better be early with your reservations (as in months early).

Since French Camp Academy is an educational institution (among other things), you'd expect quality guest speakers for the star gaze, and you wouldn't be disappointed. Through connections with NASA as well as other educational bodies, Jim always provides high quality presentations for attendees.

Since there are a number of telescopes on "the hill", many get used by star gaze attendees on a regular basis. These "resident" scopes include a 20" f7 Dobsonian, 32" (f5?) Dobsonian, SCTs, RCTs,refractors and other scopes. By the time of the 2007 star gaze, the new Sangre Ritchey-Chrétien scope and its sophisticated support infrastructure should be up and running. AC power is available at the observing location, although plans are in place (probably already implemented) to improve its rather meager load capacity. The planetarium/classroom buildling is always a nice retreat on cool evenings, since there's usually coffee available inside (not to mention restrooms!).

Oh yeah -- You'll have to ask about the Council House if you want to learn more about those roast beef sandwiches...