Looking Up

From the New Horizons Pluto flyby to the announcement of NASA’s plan to put people on Mars by 2040, this has been a stellar year for astronomy. Defined as the study of stars, planets, and other objects in outer space, astronomy enchants amateurs and professionals with the joy of observing the skies. Since the 1960s, the Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches has invited people from all walks of life to explore the world above them through monthly meetings and observational sessions while also explaining issues facing modern-day astronomers, namely light pollution. “The Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches exists to bring astronomy to everyone in the Palm Beaches,” says Sam Storch, a member of ASPB’s board of directors and a former astronomy professor. “Astronomy has a lot of amateurs, and it really is possible for an amateur astronomer to make a scientific contribution.” In November, ASPB will host the following observational sessions: Jonathan Dickinson State Park on November 7, Pine Glades on November 13, West Delray Regional Park on November 14, Loggerhead Marinelife Center on November 20, and the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium on November 27. Before you go, learn a little more about ASPB and modern astronomy with these three questions with Sam Storch.

Dwarf galaxy caught ramming into a large spiral galaxy. Image courtesy of NASA

PBI.com: What should those new to astronomy keep in mind when trying to observe the night skies?

Storch: A beginning stargazer should find any place that’s not in the direct sight of lighting. Certainly for a beginner, the best place would be wherever you are out of the direct line of sight of the streetlight or some similarly bright thing. Turn off the porch light. Turn off the spotlights that light up the driveway. [Beginners should] come down to one of our meetings we have the first Wednesday of every month. The meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Motorola Science Theater at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium.

What do you typically look for at your observational meetings?

A person who comes to an observing session might be learning the constellations, but more often than not, they’re looking with a telescope and binoculars. They’re looking for things within the constellations. We try to have our sessions on nights when the moon is not washing out anything else because we look for things that are fainter. We look for things like nebulas, star clusters, galaxies—planets are easy to see because they’re bright. You cannot see anything faint in Palm Beach County because of light pollution, but you can see the brighter constellations.

What is exciting you most in the world of astronomy right now?

New Horizons is [proving] Pluto to be a very interesting world with many surface features. And with every answer, many more questions come with it. Since 1989, all of the planets have been visited by robotic space crafts except for Pluto. You are alive right now at a time in which that has finally been achieved—finally visiting all of the largest bodies of the solar system.

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