Astronomy club opens up its skies
For a while last weekend, the McCaughey family’s sightseeing trip on Grand Mesa wasn’t going so well.
“We were hoping to see a moose, but that didn’t happen,” Lori McCaughey said.
That Saturday evening, high winds and cloud cover threatened to dash their hopes for the day.
Lori and Al McCaughey, a Grand Junction couple, and their sons Michael, 14, and
Brian, 12, had driven up to Grand Mesa for another reason. They had plans to view heavenly rather than earthbound marvels through the telescopes of members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society.
The club was hosting a star party. With the skies obscured, several dozen people who showed up headed inside the U.S. Forest Service visitor center for a slide show by club member Dan Rosen of Fruita. As Rosen took them on an illustrated tour of the universe from Earth to the most distant reaches known to man, the clouds parted outside, prompting club member Wayne Brew to set up his telescope.
Soon, Lori McCaughey was peering through it at Jupiter and three of its moons.
“Oh my gosh. … I see two on one side and one on the other!” she exclaimed. “This is amazing.”
Brew could relate to McCaughey’s excitement. The Delta-area farmer was introduced to astronomy when he went to one of the club’s star parties on Grand Mesa about eight years ago and heard a presentation by Rosen. He and his wife, Ruby, became club members, and he bought a telescope of his own.
The club urges people not to buy a telescope until attending a star party. After getting a chance to consider some of the options, Brew settled on a 10-inch-diameter reflecting telescope.
“Through this particular scope, the planets show up real good,” Brew said.
He said bigger telescopes tend to be better for viewing distant galaxies.
Club vice president and Delta resident John Pool’s telescope is so big he finds it easiest to haul it in a trailer. But some of the club members’ observing tools are much smaller and simpler to carry. Several of them wield powerful, green-hued laser pointers that allow them to easily point out constellations and other attractions to star party attendees.
Clubs such as the Black Canyon Astronomical Society hold star parties to share their love of celestial delights with the public and encourage interest in astronomy.
Pool said the events help people get away from their day-to-day lives to enjoy the splendors of the night sky. The effervescent Rosen said he loves “to turn people on to the wonders of being alive in the universe.”
Astronomy, Rosen said, speaks to big questions, among them, “What is this place, and how do we fit into it?”
For the McCaugheys, a smaller, closer-to-home question loomed large Saturday.
Although they never found an answer to the mystery of where the elusive moose lurked, viewing Jupiter and its moons through Brew’s telescope seemed to make their Grand Mesa trip well worth it.
“It’s so far away, to see it so clearly is so cool,” Lori McCaughey said.
Dan Rosen has a telescope at the ready for the Black Canyon Astronomical Society, which has star parties so members can share their love of celestial delights with the public and encourage interest in astronomy.
The Daily Sentinel