Column: Interested in stars? Join the club

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001

What do you see when you look up into the sky? Stars? Planets? UFOs? God’s creation? Nothing? If you’re like me, you look up into the sky and see a small part of the universe.

Wednesday, January 31, 2001

What do you see when you look up into the sky? Stars? Planets? UFOs? God’s creation? Nothing? If you’re like me, you look up into the sky and see a small part of the universe. No matter which direction we look the blackness of the night is speckled with the light of hundreds of stars and galaxies. When it’s dark enough, with no moon around to spoil things, we can see the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy (our galaxy) and the sky is strewn with millions of stars. How many of those stars have planets in orbit around them? Is there anything alive on any of those planets? The light from some of those stars took thousands of years to reach our eyes. The light from those galaxies took millions. Looking up at the sky at night is actually a way of looking back into the past.

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I bought a telescope this past spring, because I finally had the funds and knew that it was this year or never.

Three days after the telescope arrived in the mail and I got it put together, the mosquitoes arrived and I ran for cover. This fall the pirate bugs made viewing miserable (or smelly if I covered myself with repellent). This winter has been very cold. But even with bugs and weather making things difficult I have managed to see some cool deep space objects. The Andromeda Galaxy (allegedly easy to find), the moon (terribly hard to avoid), and the planet Mars, my favorite planet. I’ve been told that in a couple of years, we will be able to see the International Space Station.

One thing that does get in the way of stargazing is inexperience. The astronomy classes I took in college introduced me to a lot of theories about the curvature of space and how the universe began, among other things. But the professors didn’t spend much time on how to use telescopes. We used the big ones at the University Observatory to get in our required observations. So I have a telescope, but I’m only just beginning to understand how to use different sizes of eyepieces and how to align my telescope to best track the objects I wish to view as they move across the sky.

There are others in the area who share an interest in stargazing, however, who have a lot more experience than I do. So I have sought some of them out. And luckily for me, some of them are interested in forming an Astronomy Club for Freeborn County. A club would make it easier to organize star parties, times when we would bring our telescopes together and spend time stargazing as a group. With more experienced stargazers around, I can make better use of the telescope I have and find out what I might still need to obtain.

Organizing a club is a big step, though, and will take patience and fortitude. I’ve been involved in lots of different clubs and organizations over the years. Some of them have been good and some have been, well, not so good. The good ones have a clear idea about why they exist: to do something for the community or for individuals. The organizing part of things – all the meetings and fund-raising-is pretty transparent; we hardly know they’re happening. Meetings about planning and fund-raising need to happen, but they never become the reason for being in the club. Meetings and fund-raising allow the members of the club to do what they joined the club to do.

The not-so-good clubs and organizations seem to have forgotten their original purpose and spend all their time keeping themselves in existence. In these kinds of clubs, meetings and fund-raising end up requiring all the energy and resources of the members. They sometimes have big bank accounts, but rarely spend the money on anything. It needs to be saved &uot;just in case.&uot;

And I always ask just in case of what? It doesn’t make me popular. Belonging to this kind of club is pointless, unless you think parliamentary procedures are the most exciting thing since sliced bread.

For now, I am looking forward to meeting other amateur astronomers in the area, and I will do my part to make a club a success. But I know it will mean work, and making the effort to make sure that the focus of our club remains on the activity that brought us together. The advantages of an organization that will bring together experienced and inexperienced stargazers are worth the efforts that always accompany creating a new organization.

For those readers who might also be interested in organizing a club for stargazers, watch the paper for more information about meeting dates and times.

David Behling’s is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.