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Friday, August 14, 2009

Amateur Astronomers Unite and Star Gaze!

Posted by Darin Hayton on 08/14 at 11:37 AM

Interested in seeing the stars and planets, but don’t know where to look and don’t want to invest in a telescope? Attend a “Star Party”. Organized by the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers, these star parties occur each month out at Valley Forge. I have just heard about these Star Parties, so my knowledge is only secondhand (and, therefore, potentially incorrect). Nonetheless, from what I have heard they sound like fascinating events.

Members of the DVAA show up and set up their telescopes, pointing them in toward any number of stars and planets. Visitors get to wander from telescope to telescope, peering into the heavens and learning about whatever celestial body is in view. At least one member of the DVAA has constructed a Galilean telescope (perhaps even a replica of Galileo’s first telescope, my informant was unclear about exactly what type of instrument it was) as well as a reflecting telescope. He then trains both telescopes on the same object (I have to assume he points them at the moon) and discourses at length about the improvements that are manifest in the reflecting telescope.

Apparently the events are fascinating on (at least) two levels. On one hand, visitors get a chance to benefit from skilled astronomers who act as celestial tour guides, telling you about both the objects you look at and the instruments you are looking through. On the other hand, you get to watch people who are at time quite passionate about their hobby. For example, at a recent star party, as if on cue, all the members of the DVAA in attendance looked at their watches, announced that it was 10:04 (this time is just made up for illustrative purposes) and looked up to see the iridium flare of a passing communication satellite. Where else are you going to find a group of people who not only know when the next iridium flare is going to occur but also care enough to stop whatever they’re doing to watch it?

Star parties are suitable for children and adults alike and are free of charge. The next one is 29 August.

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