Stargazers share their ingenuity and tips at group's first Gadget Night

February 21, 1993|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Contributing Writer

A little ingenuity can go a long way, literally, if you're stargazing.

And displaying their ingenuity is just what members of the Westminster Astronomical Society did at Wednesday night's monthly meeting held at Western Maryland College -- the first Gadget Night.

While you might not think of a wooden, 8-foot ladder as an astronomy gadget, Curtis Roelle of Westminster does -- instead of painting ceilings, he uses the ladder to put him closer to the stars and give him a clearer view of the sky over trees and other earthly obstacles.

"I added a platform and shelf to lay my books on and equipment," he said. "It's a low-tech kind of thing, but it works."

He also displayed two new books, Volume 3 of "The Deep Sky Field Guide" and "Glorious Constellations." Detailed maps and charts of stars, planets and other astronomical objects are invaluable aids in locating such things in the deep sky.

To further aid in finding those deep-sky objects, Steve Jaworiwsky of Columbia demonstrated his homemade object finder, consisting of three lighted antennas on a piece of wood connected by wires to a battery.

To find an object like a star, he places the two end antennas on a map of two easy-to-find objects, and the middle antenna on the desired object.

Then, lining up the finder with the two easy-to-find objects in the sky, he's able to follow the third antenna to what he's seeking.

"Seventy percent to 80 percent of the time I'm right on the object or within one degree of it," he said. "It's saved me hours looking for deep-sky objects."

Gene Dolphin, a club member who lives in California but travels frequently and is in the area for some meetings, proudly showed his 5-inch Celestron telescope, which he carries in a remodeled tool box.

Choosing the right tripod also is important in stargazing. Mr. Dolphin's metal tripod features nonhydraulic leg adjusters and slow-motion control for the telescope.

On the other hand, club Vice President Paul Henze's handmade wooden tripod allows for easier viewing. "With the longer legs, I virtually walk up to the telescope and look straight through," Mr. Henze said. "I have back problems, and you know how you get sore after a couple of hours? This helps prevent that."

Sharing such tips is only one of many things club members do. It was a desire to inform the public about the hazards of viewing a solar eclipse that got the club started in 1984, Mr. Roelle said.

"It can be very dangerous viewing a solar eclipse," he said. "The eclipse gave us an excuse to start having meetings."

The 1986 appearance of Halley's comet increased interest in the club, which now has about 70 members, some from other states. The Westminster group is affiliated with the Astronomical League, a federation of amateur astronomical societies, Mr. Roelle said.

Besides monthly meetings, the club has "star parties" where members gather at someone's home to stargaze through the night. Mr. Roelle is also in charge of the monthly newsletter, which includes information on activities and lunar and solar almanacs for sky watching.

At least two star parties a year are open to the public, usually at Piney Run Park and Hashawha Environmental Center in the warmer months. The club is also helping to build a planetarium at Bear Branch Nature Center.

"They've left space for a 20-foot dome planetarium at Bear Branch, but with the budget problems they've had problems getting it finished, so our group has taken it upon ourselves to construct the dome and donate the audio-visual equipment," said Mr. Roelle.

The club always welcomes new members. Meetings are held at 7:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of every month in Room 11 of Lewis Science Hall on the Westminster campus of Western Maryland College. Dues are $15 per family; $13 for singles.

MA Information: Mr. Roelle at 848-6384 or Mr. Henze at 876-3196.

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