You're Invited to a Star Party!
From Golden Gate National Recreation Area
By Bill Stepka, San Francisco Amateur Astronomers
See also Starry, Starry Night article
all the wonders of the Bay Area, let us not ignore those that are free and found
overhead each evening. In the San Francisco Bay Area, with its wealth of astronomical
knowledge and stargazing opportunities, the general public has a plethora of professional
and amateur astronomers willing and able to share their time and their knowledge
of the wonders of the universe. This confluence of great universities, astronomical
observatories, and a very strong group of amateur and professional astronomical
societies allows anyone interested in the cosmos endless means to indulge that
interest. Somewhere near you, a public "star party" is taking place. In the Golden
Gate National Parks, look for such parties between February and October at Lands
End, hosted by the National Park Service and the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers.
your interests include the planets of our Solar System or
the further reaches
of theoretical cosmology (the study of the origins of the universe),
find a professional astronomer speaking on your topic several times a year.
Morrison Planetarium (750-7141, www.calacademy.org/planetarium) in Golden Gate
Park hosts the Benjamin Dean Lecture Series of eminent astronomers each year.
Our own San Francisco Amateur Astronomers (566-2357, www.sfaa-astronomy.org) meets
there on the third Wednesday of the month. The SFAA also hosts many famous lecturers,
such as the internationally acclaimed extrasolar planet finder, Dr. Geoff Marcy.
For public telescope viewing on the city's sidewalks, check
out the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers (289-2007, www.sfsidewalkastronomers.org).
NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field (www.arc.nasa.gov) also encourages its
scientists to do public outreach and provides speakers to clubs and universities.
Astronomical Society of the Pacific (415-337-1100, www.astrosociety.com), founded
in 1889, is the oldest amateur and professional nonprofit organization in the
United States. Working to increase the public's understanding and appreciation
of astronomy, they publish Mercury, a popular bimonthly magazine that is as good
as (and often better than) the more widely available monthlies. This year's annual
ASP meeting at UC Berkeley drew more than a thousand people and featured such
famous astronomers as Drs. Alex Filippenko and David Morrison.
More than 25 members of the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers brought telescopes to
the most recent Mt. Tam Star Party. Photo courtesy: Robert Naeye
San Francisco Amateur Astronomers assisted the ASP in hosting a Star Party at
Mt. Tam (which holds star parties near the time of the new moon in the summer
months) after a public lecture by nationally known author David Levy. The ASP
has also matched amateur and professional astronomers with science teachers to
bring the excitement of astronomy to the classroom. Anyone with astronomical curiosity
is encouraged to join the ASP and support this grand old San Francisco institution
and its good works.
East bay, South bay
local institution is Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center (510-336-7300,
located at 10000 Skyline Boulevard. Set on 13 parkland acres, it is home to a
state of the art planetarium, theater, science museum, education center, and observatory
complex. Their 20-inch refracting telescope is open to the public for viewing
on Friday and Saturday evenings. The center sponsors a Telescope Maker's Workshop
(founded in 1930) on Friday nights from 7 to 10 pm.
also hosts the Eastbay Astro-nomical Society (www.eastbayastro.org), founded in
1924; the society has had numerous attendees during its many years of existence‹Albert
Einstein attended one of its meetings! In addition, those with an interest in
the history of astronomy would find something of interest at the Northern California
Historical Astronomy Luncheon and Discussion Association (www.nchalada.org), which
meets quarterly in Chabot's boardroom.
Travel to the South Bay for a visit
to the Lick Observatory (831-459-2513, www.ucolick.org). Founded in 1888 by the
eccentric millionaire James Lick, it is located 20 miles east of San Jose and
managed by the University of California. This observatory is open daily and offers
tours of the historic 36-inch Great Lick Refractor and the 120-inch reflecting
On the Web
Check these websites for
further information. Fremont Peak Observatory Association (www.fpoa.net), San
Jose Astronomical Association (www.sjaa.
net), and Peninsula Astronomical Society
the San Mateo County Astronomical Society and many
other contacts, investigate the resources at the Astronomical Association of Northern
The Bay Area offers
a wealth of astronomical opportunities. Whatever your interest, you will find
someplace to satisfy your curiosity and sense of wonder. If you have never looked
through a telescope, find a star party and experience the beauty of the night
sky for yourself.
Stepka is past president of the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers and also proud
member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the Eastbay Astronomical
Society. He spent two of the best weeks in his life as a student in residence
at Mt. Wilson Observatory near Pasadena using the historic 60-inch reflecting
Stargazing at Hume Observatory, the California Academy of Sciences observatory in
Sonoma County. Photo courtesy: Jane and/or Morris Jones, San Rafael, CA