Whether you need a new telescope to keep on eye on Saturn's rings, want to learn more about how to observe this summer's total solar eclipse without singeing your retinas or simply want to finally learn where to find the common constellations in the night sky, on Saturday, April 29, the Westminster Astronomical Society has you covered.
In conjunction with the Freedom Area Recreation Council, the club is presenting an International Astronomy Day celebration from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the South Carroll Senior and Community Center, at 5928 Mineral Hill Road in Eldersburg.
Astronomy Days — there are actually two each year, one in the spring and one in the fall — are all about bringing astronomy to the people, according to club President Brenda DeLuna, giving people who have never placed eye to eyepiece on a telescope a chance to see the heavens for themselves. So long as the weather holds, this free celebration will offer some safe, solar observation opportunities, she said.
"Astronomy Day was founded to bring astronomy to the people," DeLuna said. "My dream, if it is a sunny day, is to have a couple of guys out there with their telescopes and some people talking about the eclipse."
The eclipse DeLuna refers to is the total solar eclipse destined to occur on Aug. 21.
"That's Monday and it will happen, in Maryland, from 1:15 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.," she said. "The last time a total solar eclipse occurred over the continental United States was 99 years ago, so it's kind of a big deal."
The moon's shadow that day will not fall fully over Maryland, so local observers will see an eclipse of about 80 to 85 percent totality, DeLuna said. On Saturday, Astronomical Society club members will be giving tips on how to view the eclipse safely, whether using a cardboard box with a pinhole in it or "eclipse glasses." Whether staying in Maryland or traveling to a point where the total eclipse is visible, say, South Carolina, she said, never view an eclipse with your naked eyes.
Saturday's event will also feature refreshments, talks on the moon and the constellations, and a silent auction of books and three telescopes: a 10-inch Meade DS-10 Equatorial Newtonian telescope with a German-made, clock-driven equatorial mount; a 6-inch Celestron refractor-type telescope; and a 3-inch "Richest Field," portable Newtonian telescope that comes with a strap and is designed for backpacking and observing. Proceeds from the auction will help fund future club events, DeLuna said, a schedule of which can be found on the website, www.westminsterastro.org.
DeLuna is relatively new to astronomy, having gotten the bug about three years ago and working in a law firm, not in the space industry. But she is keen to introduce the hobby to others.
"This event originally started as just a way to bring our club members together," she said, "but then I thought: Why not make it a big public event and introduce some people to astronomy who may not know anything about the hobby?"
The timing may be perfect, as the rare nature of the coming solar eclipse had been getting people interest in the sky and astronomy clubs at a faster pace, DeLuna said.
"Total eclipses happen all the time, but it's usually not near population centers," she said. "If you want to be in astronomy, this is the year to be in astronomy. People are aware of the eclipse and it has brought some light to astronomy clubs. People are like, 'Hey, we want to get in on this.'"
If you go
What: International Astronomy Day celebration
When: 2 p.m. -5 p.m. Saturday, April 29
Where: South Carroll Senior and Community Center, 5928 Mineral Hill Road, Eldersburg
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For more information on the event, astronomy or other Westminster Astronomical Society events, call 410-336-7243 or go to www.westminsterastro.org.