What do you do if you want to see a star? Go shopping on Rodeo Drive? Hang out at the Polo Lounge? Plunk down $6 at a movie theater?
Some star gazers literally head for the hills. In remote spots, under dark skies, they point their telescopes and look up. The
heavenly bodies they search for are more likely to be Cassiopeia and Arcturus, not Raquel Welch or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Welcome to the world of amateur astronomy.
Southern California is one of the most active areas in the country for amateur astronomy, says Andrew Fraknoi, executive officer of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, with some "star parties" drawing several thousand people.
Fraknoi notes that amateur astronomers fall into three groups. First, there are the serious observers. They make real scientific contributions as they track variable stars (those that grow brighter and dimmer) and hunt for comets (find one and it may be named after you). Then there are telescope buffs--people who enjoy building and using telescopes and going to "star parties"--all-night outings where you get a view of the night sky through telescopes and share the excitement of astronomy with friends, students and the public. Finally, there are the "armchair" astronomers. They read a lot about the science and may speculate about the origins of the universe--but they're hardly going to leave their cozy armchairs to spend a cold night outdoors observing the stars.
The following is a partial list of amateur astronomy groups in the Southland. For more clubs, check with your local observatory. And for more information on astronomy in general, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 390 Ashton Ave., San Francisco, Calif. 94112.
Polaris Astronomical Society--Meets the fourth Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at the Encino Community Center, 4935 Balboa Blvd., Encino. Contact Bob Collins, chairman, at (818) 348-1026, or write to him at 23824 Welby Way, West Hills, Calif. 91307. Annual dues of $15 include the club newsletter, the Telescopium. The club was established in 1958 and has 50 members. Star parties are held occasionally; for dates, call the club hot line at (818) 715-9819.
Los Angeles Astronomical Society--Meets at 7:30 p.m. the second Monday of the month, September through June, at the Griffith Observatory, 2800 E. Observatory Road, Griffith Park. Contact Tom Dorff, (213) 926-4071. Membership is $30 a year, and discounts on telescopes and accessories are offered on occasion. The club started in 1926 and now has 350 members. The group has its own observatory in the Gorman area and holds monthly star parties, weather permitting, for members and their guests. Public events are held at the Griffith Observatory. The club also operates the Monterey Park city observatory and holds Wednesday night workshops there from 8 to 10 p.m.
Orange County Astronomers--Meets the second Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Science Hall at Chapman College, Orange. Contact John Sanford, 2215 Martha Ave., Orange, Calif. 92667, telephone (714) 639-8446, or call the 24-hour "starline" at (714) 633-2253. Dues are $35, $20 for students and seniors. With more than 500 members, this may be the largest amateur astronomy club in the United States. Star parties are held two or three times a month, either near Silverado or at the 20-acre club-owned site in Anza, where club members have built an observatory with a 22-inch telescope and 27 pads for setting up portable telescopes. "We're very proud of that site," Sanford says. The club is developing a public observatory at Mile Square Park in Orange County. The group also sponsors an all-day seminar in astrophotography and publishes books.
Astronomical Society of the Desert--An auxiliary group of the College of the Desert in the Coachella Valley, serving the area from Palm Springs to the Salton Sea. Meets twice a month during the school year, starting in October. One meeting is a star party; the other is a public lecture on science and astronomy at the College of the Desert, 43500 Monterey Ave., Palm Desert, Calif. 92260, telephone (619) 346-8041. Contact founder and past president Ashley Thomas McDermott at the college for exact times and dates. The club has 80 members and its goal is to bring astronomy to the community and to act as a resource for students. A star party is held each month on the Saturday closest to the dark of the moon. (One star party drew close to 3,000 people.)
Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers--Meets the third Friday of the month in Galileo Hall, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont. Contact president Billie Darrah, (714) 860-5373, or write Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers, 900-A N. Golden Springs Road,
Diamond Bar, Calif. 91765. Dues of $10 include the Nightwatch newsletter. The club's