Why Join An Astronomy Club?

I attended my first Astronomy club meeting a year ago, thinking this could be a short-lived experience. The sum total of my astronomical knowledge consisted of being able to identify two constellations along with a generous dose of enthusiasm.

Melora park mug

Melora Park

It was all stoked by witnessing the great total solar eclipse of 2017 in my own front yard. I am happy to report that not only did I go back many times after that, I now participate in outreach events, bringing a beginner’s voice to the club.

I joined the Heart of the Valley Astronomy Club. Many of the club members have extensive scientific and factual expertise, some with impressive encyclopedic knowledge of the night sky above us. Many have sophisticated gear, including telescopes and astrophotography equipment, and they produce spectacular photographs from backyards and nearby semi-dark sites. They generously share their knowledge and enthusiasm with everyone, and it’s not an intimidating environment.

I have always been excited by all-things scientific, including the unimaginable and mind-boggling extent of the cosmos and space-time. The aurora borealis (Northern Lights) have been on my bucket list for years and in 2015 I learned that a major event had occurred, resulting in the aurora being visible in our latitude and even further south.

Armed with this new knowledge, I downloaded an aurora app on my mobile phone which notified me whenever the conditions were right for a possible aurora viewing. I found myself in dark places in the middle of the night, which was often creepy, and I considered how to find like-minded people to share the experience. In 2017, I attended a presentation at the Corvallis Public Library by the HVA and I knew I had found my people.

I attended several classes through Corvallis Parks & Recreation and started learning the basics. I picked up a used telescope through the club and, one cold December night, headed to a club star party at Adair County Park. I quickly discovered that locating specific celestial objects with little or no visual knowledge of the night sky and a complicated and unfamiliar piece of equipment was very difficult if not impossible. I left freezing cold, feeling discouraged and completely in over my head.

I spent the next few months studying the telescope manual and consulting with fellow club members, who were a wonderful resource. In the spring I discovered that I could use my telescope in my own yard, which made it easy to spend evenings practicing. In June, I was finally able to achieve success, locating Jupiter and four of its moons, as well as achieving a personal dream of seeing the rings of Saturn. I was ecstatic! I spent the rest of the summer observing the planets and sharing the excitement with family, friends and neighbors.

What I have learned during this year-long journey is that, like many new ventures, there is a learning curve, and time and patience are needed. The help and assistance from club members has been invaluable. I encourage all newcomers to share in the experience and know that there will be at least one other person in the club just beginning the journey.

The Heart of the Valley Astronomers is a group of amateur astronomers dedicated to sharing our passion for the sky with the local community. We meet on the second Tuesday of each month (next: June 12 at 7:00 PM) at the Walnut Community Room, 4950 NW Fair Oaks Drive in Corvallis. Meetings are free and open to everyone. For more information, see www.hvaastronomy.com, or visit us on Facebook.  Source: Albany Democrat herald

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