In a normal Summer, the Heart of the Valley Astronomers would be taking groups of people into the hills outside Corvallis to look through telescopes at the night sky in “star parties,” which contain moments of education, cheerful companionship, and reverent awe.
As HoVA member Tom Carrico puts it, visitors to the star parties would be able to see “clusters, galaxies, things they’ve seen on Star Trek. People will ask, ‘can we look at Andromeda, can we look at Vega.’”
“Sometimes I process it to make it easier to look at,” Carrico continues. “I’ll say, ‘Now we’ll look at the ring nebula in Lyra.’ We’d hold star parties with five or six telescopes in a county park outside of town, invite people to bring their kids and make it a social event. We can’t do that with the virus.”
Since it’s not possible to hold star parties safely this year, HoVA has decided to substitute them with “Virtual Star Parties.” They’ve found a business in New Mexico which has a small mountaintop observatory the size of a two-car garage containing nine modest-sized telescopes. On clear nights (one of New Mexico’s prime resources), motors retract the roof and telescopes are aimed by motors to wherever computers at remote locations command.
On June 25, visitors to a web site HoVA has set up with the help of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library will be able to view Jupiter and Pluto in conjunction, with globular clusters visible nearby.
Carrico describes the virtual star parties as more than a mere substitute, but “a lot of fun” in their own right – an event that “exposes people to astronomy and astrophotography as well.” He will also enhance some views with 30 second or 60 second exposure times to make dim objects easier to see. These images he can put on the screen to compare with the live view he gets from the telescope in New Mexico.
The club will hold events on June 25 and 27. Register at the Library website.
By John M. Burt