Club celebrates stellar events in astronomy


At the Bear Branch Nature Center, black holes and supernovae have become as popular as hiking trails and wildlife exhibits.

Tonight, about 70 astronomy enthusiasts will fill the center's planetarium for two sold-out shows presented by the Westminster Astronomical Society.

"The program is going to highlight the silver anniversary of the first lunar landing and last week's impact on Jupiter by fragments of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9," said Curtis Roelle, the astronomical society's program chairman.

Mr. Roelle, a software engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, will narrate tonight's 40-minute slide show, which features photographs from the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and Jupiter's encounter with the comet.

He said damage from the comet is still visible on Jupiter but that the "scabs will eventually heal over." Smaller fragments will continue to rain down on the planet, but the major activity has ceased, he said.

He said that pictures of the impact spots publicized thus far have shown them to be white, but these regions are black or dark brown when viewed through a telescope.

During tonight's program, he will also lead a discussion on evidence that extraterrestrials have been present on Earth from prehistoric times through today.

Roman mythology and some of the legends associated with the god Jupiter will also be discussed.

The club has more than 70 members and is affiliated with the Astronomical League, a federation of amateur astronomical societies. It has presented shows about once every month since November, when the planetarium at the nature center opened north of Westminster.

Tonight, Mr. Roelle will be joined by Scott Diegel, Paul Henze and other members who have helped make the programs a success.

"I can't say enough about them," said Heather Davis, a naturalist with the nature center. "They designed and built our planetarium, and they work full time developing these programs. It is amazing how much these guys give."

She said that members rehearse their presentations before each show and memorize the stories about the constellations. "After the shows, members bring their telescopes to show people the constellations. It's a great way to learn about astronomy," she said.

The club, which has been meeting at Western Maryland College, will start to meet at the nature center Sept. 14. Meetings will be the second Wednesday of the month and new members are welcome, Mr. Roelle said.

Among the club's future programs is a Perseid meteor watch Aug. 12 at Piney Run Park.

To reserve a spot for the 7:30 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. Aug. 26 planetarium show, call the Bear Branch Nature Center at 848-2517. The shows are free for WAS members; $2 for nonmembers.

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