Ok, so ‘dancing’ may be a misnomer here, but it got your attention. So, you’ve been to a number of public events (hopefully) where you could look through club telescopes and see cool views of the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, a few double stars, a star cluster or two… maybe a fuzzy galaxy or two, and that orangish redish star that is actually Mars… but you’re still not quite ready to buy a telescope… that is GREAT news! Why??? There are a lot of great opportunities for you to see even more, and more importantly learn a bit about what it takes to do the type of astronomy that you want to do… not just guess at what facets there are and what gear to invest in.
Public events are fun and easy to get to… but you’ll notice that most of the amateur astronomers there are directing traffic, and not doing the majority of viewing…. Mmmm… what do they know that Joe Public doesn’t? Well, mainly, that the darker the skies, the better you can see the aforementioned objects… not just a little better, but generally a lot better… except for the moon, which astronomers, unless that is the object of study, tend to avoid. Darker skies allow for better viewing and multitudes of other objects therefore also become visible! So, you’re thinking, let’s have Public Nights during the New Moon (when it can’t be seen)! Well, hold onto your scope Galileo… it takes a bit more than that… Light pollution from cities and smoke from factory chimney stacks are also a huge hindrance! So now what?
Well, head west young man (or person to be more politically correct!)… almost literally as I’ll get to later. In this case we can call West any place out of town… maybe not just any place, but how about the astronomy clubs observatory? Ask a member when they are going out to their site to do their viewing and astrophotography… they’ll be more than happy to work something out with you… it may even be a private showing! I think you’ll get more out of it if there are a number of members at the site doing various things so that you can get a better idea as to what can be done and what you need to do it.
Now you want to know why I said ‘West’… well, West gives us more stable skies, and more stable weather… but I’m talking pretty far West, like Texas, or Oklahoma, or Nebraska… not crazy about the West? Well, Florida can do pretty well too. Ok, I had a reason for mentioning those states and ending in this manner.
The next step in learning, and one most non-amateur astronomers don’t take, is the opportunity to partake in an official ‘star party’… these events can have hundreds of amateurs in attendance setting up their gear, some valued in excess of $100,000… Also, vendors are generally in attendance at the larger events, and of course they offer show specials… but I digress… the reason this is a good thing to do is that for a marginal registration fee, you can see hundreds of different telescopes, view through them, talk to the owners about the pro’s and con’s, see incredible objects all in a vacation like setting!
So… the locations I mentioned? Google the Florida Winter Star Party (2/20-26/17), the Texas Star Party (5/21- 28/17), the Nebraska Star Party (7/23-28/17), and/or the Okie-Tex Star Party (9/16-24/17) … visiting these sites, to name a few, will have you Dancing with the Stars!
Visit the Popular Astronomy’s web site at WWW.PopularAstronomyClub.org for dates and times of club meetings held at Augustana College and public night’s held at Niabi Zoo. The public is always welcome at all events.