Local astronomy club to host stargazing event at Shaker Village

The Bluegrass Amateur Astronomy Club set up their stargazing show at Shaker Village on July 2016.

Akhira Umar

The Bluegrass Amateur Astronomy Club will soon be hosting a public stargazing at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. This is part of the club’s regular observing sessions that run once a month from March to October.

According to Brad Canon, BGAAC was founded by a small group in 1957. Canon is the treasurer of the club and its oldest living member, having joined the club in the early ‘70s. He is one of about 20 to 25 members of BGAAC.

As the club is not a group of professional astronomers, what brings the members together is their love for looking at space. When Rick Schrantz became the BGAAC president in the ‘90s, he thought the idea of stargazing events would be a “win-win” for both club members and the public.

“It’s just really neat to show some things in the sky to the public that back in 150 years ago when there weren’t any electric lights or anything like that, lots of people saw spectacular night skies when they looked up,” Schrantz said. “But now with all the light pollution from city lights and street lights and house lights and every other kind of lights … it’s blotted out a lot of the things you can see in the sky.”

The club’s vice president, Zachary Massengill, has been a member for only three years now, but he’s already showing his passion by running the Shaker Village stargazing events.

“The public viewing to me satisfies my need to share my love of astronomy,” Massengill said. “Many people don’t consider what you can actually see with your own eye at night.”

All of the club’s observing sessions are open to the public and the club highly encourages all people to attend. This Saturday, the stargazing event will be held at Shaker Village, but the club regularly hosts these events at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary.

“The events at Shaker Village and Raven Run are very nice areas with low light pollution, easy public access, and many people thank us for sharing our knowledge,” Massengill said.

The stargazing events begin before sundown. As it gets darker, the club looks for objects of interest in the sky to observe, like planets, nebule, star clusters and galaxies. The equipment that members bring determine what observers have to work with, so the club encourages nonmembers to bring their own telescopes.

Typically, the club brings to the events “6 inch diameter refracting telescopes to large Newtonian telescopes ranging in diameter from 8 inch, 12 inch, 14 inch and larger.”

Schrantz said that many people leave the stargazing events amazed. Some people come with preconceived notions about what planets look like based on school textbooks but then see something completely different in the telescope.

“It helps educate people about things in the night sky and the universe, and how looking farther out is actually like looking back in time also. It’s a time machine,” Schrantz said, comparing the experience to that of the Italian scientist Galileo. “We like people to take away the wonder and awe of science.”

BGAAC warns that the success rate of the stargazing events is about 50 percent. The club suggests checking their Facebook page or calling the venue in the event of poor weather conditions and a possible cancellation.

Saturday’s BGAAC stargazing event at Shaker Village will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Shaker Village will be charging $5 for admission. With prospective cloudy weather, check for a possible cancellation.