For 25 years, the Hubble Space Telescope has captured images of astronomic wonders — nebulae, galaxies, star clusters — that exist millions of light years away from Earth. These pictures are spectacular, but for members of the Eugene Astronomical Society, there’s nothing quite like looking at the night sky with their own eyes.
“Seeing a fuzzy little image of Saturn through a metal tube with a couple hunks of glass and having those photons smack you right in the eyeball — it’s more life changing than seeing the incredible photos you might see from the Hubble Telescope,” explains Bruce Hindrichs, a Eugene Astronomical Society (EAS) member.
Every month (weather depending), stargazers from EAS crowd around telescopes on top of College Hill Reservoir and peer up at the sparkling array of heavenly bodies that litter the sky. If skies are cloudy, EAS tries again the next night.
Open to the public, star parties are the society’s way of sharing its knowledge and telescopes with the rest of Eugene.
Cloud cover is less frequent in the summer, says Kathy Oltion, an EAS member, and though late sunsets mean star parties can’t start until 9 pm, clear summer skies make for easier informal astronomy. On a recent Friday night, amateur astronomers could see the Sombrero Galaxy, the reddish gas giant Jupiter and four of its moons, Venus, our own moon and a double star, all through EAS member Jerry Oltion’s telescope.
“A lot of us build our own telescopes,” Jerry Oltion says, “and the joy of seeing something with the naked eye is magnified even more when it’s with a telescope you’ve built yourself. There’s something about knowing that you put in the hours into building this thing and now you’re looking at Jupiter or Saturn with it.”
But you don’t have to build your own telescope to enjoy the benefits of the astronomy club, the Oltions say.
“If you’ve got a new telescope and you don’t know how to use it, show up at the star party, and there will be someone there who will help you,” Hindrichs says.
EAS members also explore astrophotography, or taking pictures of celestial objects. EAS member Bill Basham says photography led him to astronomy: After experimenting with time-lapse photographs of sunsets, he waited until nightfall and captured images of the Milky Way galaxy. “Getting good pictures through the telescope is my goal right now,” Basham says.
The Milky Way, the galaxy in which our solar system is located, looks particularly vibrant during the summer, Basham says, and globular clusters, or round collections of stars, also dazzle during summer months.
Since the night sky changes throughout the year as the Earth charts its course around the sun, every month brings something new to look at, Jerry Oltion says. EAS member Bob Andersen, a retired math professor, says he enjoys looking at summer constellations sans telescope and lists Cygnus the Swan as his favorite.
Several nearby astronomy events take place during the summer as well, including the Eugene Astronomical Society’s Dark Sky Star Party in Dexter on July 11. Fifteen miles southeast of Eugene, Dexter provides an escape from the bright lights of the city and offers unimpaired celestial viewing. Jerry Oltion says the event includes a raffle for young astronomers ages 8 to 18, affording them a chance to win their very own telescope.
On an even grander scale, the Oregon Star Party Aug. 11-16 in Central Oregon features a weeklong stargazing fest with speakers, camping and lots of telescopes.
For more info and guidelines on star party etiquette, visit eugeneastro.com and oregonstarparty.org.
Summer Stargazing Guide:
June 18: General Membership Meeting, Science Factory, 2300 Leo Harris Pkwy., Eugene. $1 for nonmembers.
June 26: Star Party at College Hill Reservoir, 24th & Lawrence, Eugene. FREE.
July 11: Dark Sky Star Party at Dexter Reservoir, Dexter. FREE.
July 16: General Membership Meeting, Science Factory, 2300 Leo Harris Pkwy., Eugene. $1 for nonmembers.
July 24: Star Party at College Hill Reservoir, 24th & Lawrence, Eugene. FREE.
Aug. 11-16: Oregon Star Party in Ochoco National Forest, central Oregon; pre-register at oregonstarparty.org. $60 adults, $15 ages 13-17, $5 ages 6-12, ages 5 & under FREE.
Aug. 20: General Membership Meeting, Science Factory, 2300 Leo Harris Pkwy., Eugene. $1 for nonmembers.
Aug. 21: Star Party at College Hill Reservoir, 24th & Lawrence, Eugene. FREE.
Sept. 17: General Membership Meeting, Science Factory, 2300 Leo Harris Pkwy., Eugene. $1 for nonmembers.
Sept. 18: Star Party at College Hill Reservoir, 24th & Lawrence, Eugene. FREE.