Dozens of amateur astronomers equipped with telescopes will gather near Frazier Park today for their monthly star party.
"Comet discovery is an incredibly time-consuming thing," said Art Babcock, secretary of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. His organization, which has been probing the skies of Southern California for 70 years, is part of a worldwide movement of amateur scientists--young people and adults who are making a contribution to astronomy.
"Of all the sciences, astronomy is where amateurs have been necessary," Babcock said.
Without volunteers peering into the dark and reporting on what they see, scientists might not have had advance notice of the recent spectacular crash of the comet Shoemaker-Levy into Jupiter, Babcock said.
"[David H.] Levy was an amateur," Babcock said, also noting that in July, "two other amateurs, [Alan] Hale and [Thomas] Bopp discovered a good comet." Babcock said it's one that "we all may get a chance to see passing by next year."
Saturday's gathering is one of a regular series of Astronomical Society events held at the society's regular observation site at a far-eastern part of Lockwood Valley near Frazier Park. Memberships in the society, which include mailings of a monthly bulletin detailing events and meetings, are available.
"We have a newcomers program," Babcock said. "At the Lockwood Valley site Saturday night, members who have a little blinking red light by their telescopes are available to explain things to people with questions."
It's important to call in advance to get directions to the place, which is not much more than a campground with a latrine. The advantage of using the site is that it is surrounded by crystal-clear air, unobstructed by smog and city lights.
For information on getting there, call (213) 727-7909 or (818) 340-4846.