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Club celebrates National Astronomy Day in Centennial Park

Jacob Southard came all the way from Imlay City for National Astronomy Day. (click for larger version)
May 14, 2014 - By C.J. Carnacchio

Leader Editor

A group of folks spent Saturday afternoon gazing at the sun in downtown Oxford's Centennial Park.

But it wasn't some sun-worshipping cult, it was a group of amateur astronomers.

Members of the Seven Ponds Nature Center Astronomy Club gathered in the park to celebrate National Astronomy Day and potentially find some new recruits.

"Hopefully, with the kids, we can spur their interest in astronomy and the sciences in general. That would be nice," said John Lines, who's president and cofounder of the Dryden-based club and a resident of Independence Twp.

The purpose of National Astronomy Day is to give astronomy-lovers an opportunity to share their passion with others and encourage them to join their stargazing ranks.

"Every time I look through the eyepiece (of a telescope), there's some neat stuff going on," Lines said. "I never get tired of it. There's so much up there to see."

Clubs, planetaria, observatories and museums host public viewing events, telescope workshops, hands-on activities and presentations on this day to increase awareness about astronomy both as a profession and a hobby.

"A lot of people don't ever have an opportunity to look through a telescope, especially at the sun," Lines said. "That's something unique."

Surrounding the park's quaint gazebo were seven telescopes varying in size, design and level of technology, each fitted with special solar filters that enabled people to safely view the sun.

A person should never look directly at the sun through binoculars or a telescope unless it's properly fitted with the right filters to do so.

One type is called a white light solar filter and it allows the photosphere (or surface) of the sun to be observed. This is where sunspots occur and this filter is ideal for viewing them.

Sunspots are temporary phenomena that occur on the surface. They appear as dark spots and are caused by intense magnetic activity that results in areas of greatly reduced surface temperature.

"There's really a nice grouping of sunspots right now," Lines said.

Another type is called a hydrogen alpha solar filter. It only lets in a specific wavelength of light that allows a viewer to observe prominences and flares coming off the sun.

Solar prominences are large eruptions of luminous hydrogen gas that rise thousands of miles above the sun's chromosphere, the second of the three main layers in the sun's atmosphere.

Solar flares are sudden eruptions of magnetic energy released on or near the surface of the sun. They're usually associated with sunspots and accompanied by bursts of electromagnetic radiation and particles.

One of the club members who brought his telescope to the park was Oxford resident George Clancy. He gazes at the sky through a 10-inch GoTo telescope, which utilizes a motor-driven mount and software that automatically points the telescope to astronomical objects selected by the user.

"I just like looking out there," Clancy said. "There's some beautiful sights. You look at some of those nebulas, some of the star clusters, it's just phenomenal. It really is."

"One of the things I really like to look at is the Orion nebula," he added. "It's just awesome to look at. That comes out towards the winter, so you don't see it all the time. I always get out there to see it."

Situated south of Orion's belt in the constellation of Orion, it's one of the brightest nebulae and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.

The Seven Ponds Nature Center Astronomy Club was founded in 1982.

The club meets monthly, generally on Saturdays closest to the new moon. That's because when there's no moon, the sky is dark, allowing astronomers to see a lot more.

Most of the time, the club meets at the Seven Ponds Nature Center (3854 Crawford Rd.) in Dryden, but it does conduct off-site meetings as well.

It's not necessary to own a telescope in order to join. There are no dues, but a nature center membership is encouraged.

To learn more about the club and its activities, please visit www.bhmich.com/sevenpondsac

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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