New public star watches aim at night sky
Have any interest in seeing stars and learning how old they are, why they appear in subtly different colors and how long they have to live?
Want to see four moons orbiting Jupiter?
How about a "star factory" where stars are born?
Have you ever seen a nebula or galaxy?
Do you want to be able to recognize constellations -- the Greeks weren't the only ones to place Gods in the sky you know. African and Asian cultures did, too.
Did you know Beetlejuice in the movie by the same name was inspired by the star Betelgeuse, now nearing the end of its life?
If you thought yes to any of the above, you better make your way to the new, free nighttime star watches to be held monthly this year by the Astronomy Enthusiasts of Lancaster County, in partnership with the Lancaster County Department of Parks & Recreation.
The first of the star watches was held Saturday night in a field beside Central Park's Environmental Center.
The next star watch will be held Friday or Saturday, April 12 or 13, depending on weather conditions, at the same place from 8 to 10 p.m. See the schedule on this page for the dates of upcoming star watches and what will be viewed.
In case of bad weather or too-cloudy conditions, a program will be held inside the Environmental Center. Partly cloudy skies will not cancel a star watch.
The amateur stargazers at the Astronomy Enthusiasts of Lancaster County have long wanted to spark more interest in the local night sky.
"We want to impress on people how accessible this is. You can walk out in your backyard and see things," says Lane Davis, vice president of the 49-member club.
"Astronomy offers something unique because you can show people actual things with their very own eyes in the night sky. They don't understand all of the things they can see just with a pair of binoculars."
Each star watch will focus on different planets, stars and star clusters, galaxies, constellations, comets, nebulae and the Earth's moon.
There will be telescopes set up for the public, and knowledgeable local amateur astronomers will mingle with participants to guide the viewing and answer questions.
Lane, 67, lives about five miles west of Ephrata, a place he chose because of its relative lack of light pollution.
He wants to dispel the common perception that you have to flee to dark-sky-certified Cherry Springs State Park in Potter County or some other remote location to see the night sky's celestial stars.
"Light pollution is definitely a problem, but any bright object, such as double stars and planets, you can see with your eyes and binoculars," he says.
"We're focusing on trying to get people interested in seeing the sky around their homes," adds Dave Farina, club president.
Central Park, just south of Lancaster city, with its large open space and relative high spots, is a fitting location. The club may hold future star watches in different parts of the county to attract regional audiences.
Lane, an information technology consultant, has been interested in stars since he was a kid. He grew up on a farm in Georgia, a place, he recalls, "where the night sky was always in your face and the Milky Way would actually cast a shadow, it was so big."
One day, his parents bought him a terrestrial telescope meant to study birds and animals. But Lane trained it on a bright light in the night sky one night.
"It turned out to be Saturn and I could see its rings. That's when I started to realize I wanted to know more."
He went to a local college library and read everything he could get his hands on about astronomy. Then the Internet surfaced and he soaked up more. He's taken some online astronomy courses.
"Everything I know is self-learned," he says. "In that sense I am a true amateur. For the love of it -- that's what an amateur means."
Lane hopes to impress on those coming to the star watches how accessible the firmament really is. "You don't have to have a telescope or even binoculars -- you just have to have an interest."
He notes that smartphone apps and the Internet can satisfy the most curious. But, he emphasizes, you have to first know something of the terminology.
That's what Astronomy Enthusiasts of Lancaster County can provide.
In addition to the public star watches, the group meets on the first Wednesday of every other month at 6:30 p.m. at the Lititz Public Library. The next meeting is Wednesday, April 3. Parents will help their children put together a small Galileo telescope and then observe the moon and Jupiter with help from club members. Star watches for club members are usually held during months there are not meetings.
The club's website is aelc.us. To contact the club, email president Dave Farina at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ad Crable is a Sunday News outdoors writer. Email him at email@example.com. Read his outdoors blog at adcrable.wordpress.com.
PUBLIC STAR WATCHES
Meet at the Environmental Center in Lancaster County Central Park.
· April 12 or 13, 8-10 p.m. Stars: Regulus, Castor and Pollus; Planet: Jupiter; Objects: Galaxies M65 and M66; Constellations: Leo and Auriga
· May 17 or 18, 8:30-10 p.m. Stars: Polaris and Mizar; Planets: Jupiter and Saturn; Object: Moon; Constellations: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor
· June 7 or 8, 9-10 p.m. Stars: Arcturus and Spica; Planets: Saturn, Venus and Mercury; Objects: Star Clusters M13 and M67; Constellations: Corvus and Hercules
· July 5 or 6, 9-10 p.m. Stars: Denebola and Alphecca; Planets: Saturn and Venus; Objects: Galaxies M81 and M82; Constellations: Hercules and Corona Borealis
· Aug. 2 or 3, 9-10 p.m. Stars: Vega, Deneb and Altair; Planets: Saturn, Venus; Objects: Planetary Nebulae M27 and M57
· Sept. 6 or 7, 8-10 p.m. Stars: Antares and Alberio; Planet: Neptune; Objects: Omega nubula and Andromeda Galaxy; Constellations: Sagittarius and Delphinus
· Oct. 4 or 5, 7-9 p.m. Stars: Algol and Caph; Planets: Uranus, Neptune; Objects: Andromeda Galaxy and Star Cluster M52; Constellations: Pegasus and Cassiopeia
· Nov. 1 or 2, 7-9 p.m. Stars: Capella and Aldebaran; Planets: Neptune and Uranus; Objects: Double star cluster and planetary Nebula H18-4; Constellations: Perseus and Andromeda