The Herald Bulletin

April 20, 2013

Seeing stars: Astronomy night at Mounds

By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Amateur astronomers and wishful stargazers are invited to Mounds State Park on April 27 to learn a little bit more about the heavens above, or simply to enjoy the view.

That night, weather permitting, astronomy aficionados Steve and Debbie Russell will bring their telescopes to facilitate a closer look at our galaxy.

“It’s just come out and see the skies. It’s gorgeous,” said Russell. “It’s there for us to enjoy. Why not?”

Russell, who describes himself as a “rabid amateur,” will have his 10-inch Cassegrain telescope set up. The telescope has a compound design with a lens and a couple of mirrors. His wife, Debbie, uses a 12-inch Dobsonian, which Russell described as a Newtonian telescope.

The astronomical couple frequently arranges observation evenings at Mounds State Park and Summit Lake Park. They also host viewing sessions for burn survivors, cancer patients and others who can appreciate some time with their eyes focused on the wonders of the skies.

“People in general do not understand how lovely the sky sights are,” said Russell.

Head naturalist at Mounds State Park, DeWayne Hook, said the evening makes a great opportunity for people to learn more about just what it is they’re seeing up there.  He will have star wheels on hand to help decipher the evening sky, simple devices made from cardboard using printouts available online.

“The pattern of the sky changes as night goes on,” said Hook. He explains that the field of view rotates around the North Star. “You can dial in the date and time and you can see what the sky pattern is.”

“It will be one of our last chances this season to catch Jupiter,” said Russell. As the evening progresses, he noted, “We may catch Saturn a little later.”

Visitors are invited to bring their own telescopes and learn some tips if they’re having any difficulties getting the most out of them. People who have attended previous telescope clinics are also encouraged to participate.

“Most people who buy a telescope don’t know what they’re getting into,” said Hook, who holds a minor in astrophysics. “It takes a while to recognize constellations and find your way around the sky.”

William Conner, president of the Indiana Astronomy Society, agreed that opportunities like the one at Mounds State Park are great ways to break into astronomy.

“A telescope is worthless unless you know where to point it,” said Conner. “We try to get people to come to a club meeting or observing session.” Once there, budding astronomers can look through and learn about different telescopes, and talk to people about what’s in the sky and how to use the telescope to find it.

Conner recommends  “Constellation Guidebook” by Antonin Rukl for beginners who want to get know constellations. For more on the IAS check out their website.