It’s natural to be curious about the universe. Whether we casually peer through our living room window to observe the moon, or camp out in a remote area to view the stars, we have a strong impetus to connect with the world above us.
While it can be easy to find a few stars, the study of astronomy and the practice of stargazing can be ever-so complex. Words like azimuth and occultation seem rather strange, yet they are routinely used in describing stars or solar events. In addition, the coordinates used to pinpoint celestial objects seem as though they have been written in ancient Greek instead of Modern-day English.
Thankfully, star hunting newbies do have the chance to learn from astronomy buffs, so they can interpret the sky like the pros. Since 1918, the Miami Valley Astronomical Society, or MVAS for short, has been providing stargazers with the opportunity to learn more about the heavens, along with the requisite tools to view it. The first organization of its kind in the Dayton area, the founders included many notable public figures, such as former NCR president, Colonel Edward Deeds.
The MVAS currently has 130 members and is considered one of the largest astronomy clubs in the Ohio region. Aside from hosting monthly meetings, the MVAS also facilitates star gazes, lectures, and several educational outreach programs for local schools and Scout organizations.
According to Linda Weiss, the events and outreach coordinator for the MVAS, this year in particular they have skyrocketed in membership across all demographics. This has been due to the outpouring of recent astronomical events, such as the meteor that clipped Russia’s sky in February of this year, and the various meteor showers and comets that will traverse our sky soon.
Weiss recommends a pair of Oberwerk binoculars for the budding astronomer, since Oberwerk is a local company that will happily work with their customers to find the best tools for their experience level. “You don’t always need equipment, either,” explains Weiss. “You can see iridium flares, satellites, the International Space Station or a meteor show with the naked eye.”
To view satellites, Weiss says to look up at a pitch black sky and watch “for what appears to be a moving star.” To see the International Space Station, which is surprisingly the third brightest object in the sky (next to the sun and the moon), you can visit NASA’s website to find out when it will cross your area via email and text alerts.
Weiss noted, “The key for stargazing is getting the right equipment for your skill level and not something too advanced. Then, it’s all about having a dark sky, getting to know your objects (Smartphone apps help with that), and learning to stay up late, since many of the objects don’t rise until late at night or early in the morning.”
To garner interest in astronomy throughout the Miami Valley, the MVAS will host their annual Apollo Rendezvous from June 7th – 8th, which will be open to the public (although registration is required). The Rendezvous will take place at both the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery and the John Bryan State Park Observatory. A long list of lectures from industry professionals, vendors, observings, door prizes, and raffles will be among the activities.
When questioned about common astronomy misconceptions, Weiss was quick with her answer: you can actually look at the sun. “You just need a solar telescope or filters to do so,” she added. “There have been a lot of prominences (bright, gaseous extensions) on the sun’s surface lately, so it’s been really cool to look at them.”
For people who are curious in astronomy, joining a group, like the MVAS, is helpful for a variety of reasons: you can glean valuable insight from other astronomers, learn how to use your equipment properly, gain access to books and equipment, and attend observings with some of the most robust telescopes in the region.
There are so many ways to discover the universe these days. And thanks in part to significant advances in technology, such as apps and live telescope feeds, the universe is literally at your fingertips. However, one of the prime ways to unite with the world around us is as old-fashioned as can be: simply step outside. “Just look up,” mused Weiss. “There is so much going on in the sky, not just at night, but in the daytime, too. You don’t need expensive equipment to see or experience these things; all you need is the desire to do so.”
In addition to the annual Apollo Rendezvous, the MVAS will host “camper star gaze” events at the John Bryan State Park. These events are open to the public, and the MVAS will provide telescopes and binoculars for guests/non-members. The dates for these star gazes are May 25th, June 1st, June 22nd, July 6th, July 20th, August 17th, and August 31st. All of these events begin at dusk and are weather permitting.