I went to a Star Party last night and I loved it!
The headliner of this party was Jupiter and 4 of her 63 moons
. Our very own Moon was there out-shining everyone else and begging for attention.
It was a celestial event sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Amateur Astronomical Society
LVAAS is a non-profit organization comprised of individuals with a wide range of interest in astronomy. LVAAS is located in eastern Pennsylvania, near Allentown. The society is currently in its 48th year of existence, making it one of the oldest continuously operating astronomical societies in the country.
It was a family event and my wife (Jill) and daughter (Hannah) were there as well. Hannah is thinking about a subject for her upcoming science fair project and her top prospect is the question, “Is Pluto a Planet?” Despite what I’ve been told my entire life, this is now a hot topic and there are strong arguments on both sides. (Read more here
So I spoke to my friend and co-worker, Simon Porter
, who is an avid star-gazer and has told many stories of lugging his very heavy telescope out of his basement to his ‘Shakey Deck Observatory’ (just outside his back door in Allentown) and to South Mountain and Pulpit Rock (near Hamburg, PA). After hearing about Hannah’s interest in the solar system, he invited us to the Star Party. He also sent me the link to the LVAAS
The evening started at 7 pm with a slide presentation by Brian Mickley
about the search for Exo-planets
: planets outside our solar system. It was a great slide show, geared towards people like me who are interested in space but who are not experts. There was information and pictures from NASA and an overview of the how and why of the search
for a planet like ours.
On the wall behind Bruce was a sign that said, “Speed Limit: 186,000 MPS.” I pointed it out to Hannah and she casually said, “The speed of light.” Yeah, 186,000 miles per second! It takes 8 minutes for light from our Sun to reach us. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year. And the nearest star is 4.3 light-years away. Yeah, I can do the math but it still has no real meaning. The distances are too vast.
Next was Fred Bomberger’s Planetarium
show. He told us how the club purchased the planetarium equipment from the Palmerton School District (where Simon’s wife Maureen works, though I’m sure she had nothing to do with it) and how the members of the club removed it and installed it at their South Mountain site. The show highlighted the stars that are visible in our night sky at this time of the year. He also turned up the lights a bit to show how many stars are not visible to us because of the light pollution in the Lehigh Valley.
When the Planetarium show ended we went outside to the telescopes. Simon had his focused on Jupiter, the only star visible in the not-yet-dark sky. Clearly visible in the viewfinder were Jupiter’s four largest moons! It was so fascinating!
An earlier picture of Jupiter with one moon by Simon Porter
It was about this time that Simon’s step-daughter arrived. Trisha was in Hannah’s 2nd grade class. They don’t get together often so they went off to talk and catch up. I was clearly not invited, except for the occasional, “Dad, can I have a dollar?” I knew the snack bar was involved so I didn’t ask too many questions.
Meanwhile, Jill and I visited various telescopes and talked to a variety of people. I met a couple of chemists and a professor from Kutztown University. They were all eager to talk about the sky, stars, Pluto, Jupiter, Star Trek, Isaac Asimov, jobs, family, or whatever the conversation produced. This was a large group of people who clearly enjoyed being on South Mountain together.
One highlight for me was when I turned from Simon’s telescope (showing Jupiter and her moons) to a woman who started asking me questions. “We saw the Star Party signs. Is this a private event or can anyone come here? Is there a fee?” I assured her that it was free, open to the public, and she was welcome to come look through the variety of telescopes available. She said, “Oh, good. We have four boys who will love this!”
It turned out the four boys were her nephews and they did love it! After seeing Jupiter and the moons, one of the boys, about 10 years old, started clamoring for a view of our moon. While his aunt was trying to tell him no, Simon said, “I’ll show them the moon. But you have to be careful. The moon is so bright it will hurt your eyes after a while.” After the proper re-alignment, the boy took a long look and declared, “That is the best thing I have even seen and nothing will ever be better! And it didn’t hurt my eyes. They’re fine!”
Oh, the exuberance of youth! All the adults were smiling and the other boys were crowding in for a look (and yes, I was in line, too).
The night continued with looking at stars I’d only ever heard of and many that were new to me, like the Hercules Cluster, the Witch’s Broom and a pulsing nebula. At one point Simon said, “Look at the double star.” This was two stars that revolve around each other. Cool. Then he changed the eye piece to a higher magnification and said, “Now look.” What I saw immediately was that it was two pairs of stars that revolve around themselves and each other! Four stars. Way cool! In fact, it was the best thing I had ever seen…!
Hannah, Jill and I all agreed it was a fun event. The next Star Party is September 9th
and I know I will be there. If you are interested in looking deeper into the night sky, feel free to join us. You can contact me
or go to the LVAAS website for directions
Either way, I hope to see you there.
One of Simon Porter's pictures of Saturn.