Heavenly Skies: Astronomy day celebrated at Community Observatory

By: Nicole Gauthier, Special to Gold Country News Service
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This year Astronomy Day will once again be observed at the Cameron Park Rotary Club Community Observatory in  located at  behind the , Folsom Lake College. Twilight activities begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, and conclude with night sky viewing until 10 p.m. This is a family event so all ages are welcome and it is free.

National Astronomy Day was started in 1973 by Doug Berger, the president of the Astronomical Association of Northern California. It is an annual event that provides an opportunity for interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals.

Although we all hope for clear skies this will be a “Rain or Shine” event with a number of indoor activities planned in case of inclement weather. We have three exceptional speakers who will be telling us about exciting stellar phenomenon as follows:

7:15 p.m. – “Comets” by Amateur Astronomer, first chief docent at the observatory, Forrest Lockhart

7:45 p.m. – Featured Presentation: “Messier Objects” by Astronomy Coordinator & Professor of Astronomy at , Liam McDaid

8:45 p.m. – “Asteroid Hunters” by Amateur Astronomer and lead docent at the observatory, Cindy Terpe. With asteroids frequenting the news, she will be sharing her experience as part of NASA’s Asteroid Hunters Team during her presentation at 8:45PM. Find out who the asteroid hunters are, what they do and why this program is so important to planet Earth.

Another fun feature is “Telescope Alley” where visitors can check out different telescopes and if the evening skies allow, observe the night sky through them. It is also great way to learn about the wide range of telescopes. They will be set up outside of the observatory and include: astronomical binoculars, 6-inch, 10-inch and 16-inch Dobsonian reflector telescopes, a 5-inch refractor telescope, a 16-inch Light Bridge telescope and some really cool astrophotography equipment.

The “G.A. Cort Sky Theater”, a gift last year from the Cameron Park Rotary Club, will also be manned by docents for your education and entertainment. It is a small outdoor amphitheater that seats several rows of spectators surrounding a docent who, with the help of the ever popular green light laser pointer, takes the audience on a narrated tour of the night sky. In addition, there will be docents available to demonstrate the use of Sky Maps to further your knowledge of the night sky. If you wish to come prepared…this sky map is located as a free download at

I haven’t even mentioned the observatory itself where 14-inch and 17-inch telescopes offer incredible views of the universe. The 14-inch telescope is used in conjunction with a digital camera allowing “group” viewing on a screen rather than an eyepiece. In the observatory classroom there will be astrophotography demonstrations throughout the evening.

The featured planet in the earlier hours of the evening is Jupiter with its Galilean moons will be the star attraction in Telescope Alley as will numerous deep space objects, including the most beautiful globular star cluster known as M-13 in the constellation Hercules. Don’t miss hearing about all of the Messier Objects during Professer McDaid’s presentation at 7:45 p.m.

Although the viewing conditions may be unfavorable this year due to strong moon light …the Lyrids meteor showers are active April 16-25 with the radiant between Hercules and Lyra. Most meteor showers are spawned by comets. As a comet orbits the Sun it sheds an icy, dusty debris stream along its orbit. If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower. To find out more about comets be sure to arrive early to hear Forrest Lockhart’s presentation about Comets at 7:15 PM. During the twilight hours of the event there will be a live demonstration showing how comets are formed that both kids are adults will enjoy.

So mark your calendar for Astronomy Day 2013 at the Community Observatory in  at 7 p.m., Saturday, April 20. For more information about the observatory go to And don’t forget to like the community observatory on Facebook.

Nicole Gauthier is lead docent at Cameron Park Rotary Club Community Observatory in Placerville.