With the weather getting crisper, have you ever found yourself looking up at the clear sky at night and gazing at the stars? Fall offers an excellent time to do this with the nights growing longer. For 26 years, Delmarva Stargazers has been offering amateur astronomers on the Delmarva Peninsula the opportunity to view the heavens from locations across the Shore. The group, which gathers monthly at its dark sky sites for camaraderie and to just gaze at the stars, draws members from Annapolis, the Mid Shore, and the Delaware beaches.
According to Don Surles, President of Delmarva Stargazers and a retired adjunct astronomy instructor at Wilmington University, “I think what is so attractive to stargazers is the realization that we are very small in comparison to the universe which is made up of billions of galaxies, stars, and planets and is changing all the time.”
Don was raised on a farm and had always enjoyed stargazing. The last semester of college he took an astronomy course and remembers taking photos of deep sky objects with a six-inch reflector he assembled in the lab. He got a telescope after he had his first heart attack at age 38 and it changed his life. He eventually founded Delmarva Stargazers serving as its first president for 14 years.
The group meets on the first Tuesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church at 118 West Commerce Street in Smyrna, Delaware between September and June. Meetings include a discussion of club activities, observing high lights, constellation and deep sky object of the month, an advertised presentation and possible guest speakers. The public is invited to attend all meetings. Membership is not required to attend.
Observing is usually scheduled for the Friday and Saturday nearest the New Moon to maximize the observing hours during complete darkness. The club’s dark sky sites include Trap Pond State Park in Sussex County, Delaware, Tuckahoe State Park in Maryland, and Blackbird Forest in Delaware.
Upcoming observing dates of Delmarva Stargazers include a regular Dark Sky Site viewing on October 26 at Trap Pond in Delaware. On November 11, the group will sponsor a viewing of the Transit of Mercury from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Woodland Beach Parking area in Woodland Beach, Delaware. This daytime viewing is unique as Mercury will pass directly in front the sun over a six-hour period revealing a tiny, jet black form against the solar disk. Although people in every continent, except Australia, can see at least a portion of the crossing, the best place to view it will be on the Atlantic coast of the United States. People must protect their eyes with solar glasses if they are going to observe this and, if using a telescope, must have a solar filter on the lens. Otherwise, the eye can be damaged.
On December 13 between 8 and 10 p.m., Delmarva Stargazers will host a viewing of the Geminid Meteor Shower at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton. Harrison Jackson, the Education and Outreach Associate with the Pickering Creek Audubon Center, will be the event’s host. The Geminid meteor shower is usually the best meteor shower of the year. This will be a public viewing event where people have been invited to bring telescopes to view the Great Orion Nebula, Mars, and Neptune. The Geminids are associated with the radiant found in the constellation Gemini generated by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. People are able to view the Geminids at this time because the earth turns into the stream of debris from the tail of the comet. Other meteor showers viewable throughout the year include the Perseids in August, the Orionids in October and the Leonids in November. To get a complete list of meteor shower dates visit www.amsmeteors.org.
In the club’s newsletter, “Star Gazer News,” the following tips were given for observing meteor showers: find a location with a clear, unclouded view of the night sky; search for the darkest patch of sky you can find; and, be patient and watch for at least half an hour. The article’s best advice is to put away the telescope or binoculars and let your eyes relax. Relaxed eyes will quickly zone in on any movement up above, and you’ll be able to spot more meteors.
But, according to Don, perhaps the most overlooked seasons for stargazing are the “Aurora Seasons” associated with the fall and spring equinoxes. We often think of the Aurora Borealis and only viewing it from Canada, Alaska or Maine and other northern states and countries. But, according to Don, he has seen some of the most amazing auroras locally at Tuckahoe State Park.
He explains, “An aurora occurs when particles from a solar wind stream interact with gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Auroras are influenced by activity of the sun, such as sunspots, solar flares, and coronal holes.”
Most auroras are viewable between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. in the northern sky. The result can be an array of bright colors painted in the night sky. Visit www.spaceweather.com for information about solar wind speeds, solar flares, and sunspots, which all influence aurora activity this fall between October and December.
Because Delmarva Stargazers are also dedicated to promoting amateur astronomy on the Delmarva Peninsula, they offer their “Astronomy at the Library” program to people of all ages who want to look at the night sky through a telescope at local libraries. Don adds, “It is so satisfying to see a child experience stargazing for the first time. The awe on their faces, the ‘Wow!’ is priceless.”
Don states that the most economical and best telescope for beginners is a six- or eight-inch Newtonian reflector with a Dobsonian mount, which can be ordered online. This type of telescope offers the best viewing and is especially appropriate for children who are just getting into the hobby of stargazing.
Delmarva Stargazers is currently looking for new members. Annual dues are $15 for an individual or $20 for a family. Anyone with an interest in astronomy is welcome to join the Delmarva Stargazers regardless of skill level as it is an amateur group. For further information, contact Don Surles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-653-9445 or visit delmarvastargazers.org.
Photographs courtesy of Don Surles.
International Observe the Moon Night
The public is invited to celebrate International Observe the Moon Night on Saturday, October 5 at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center in Wallops Island, Virginia. International Observe the Moon Night is an annual worldwide public event that encourages observation, appreciation and understanding of our moon and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration. The annual event connects scientists, educators and lunar enthusiasts from around the world. The free event will include lunar and Apollo-themed hands-on activities, movies, and presentation. The Delmarva Space Sciences Foundation will be on-site with telescopes, providing close views of Earth’s Moon and other night sky object. For details, visit https://www.nasa.gov/content/wallops-visitor-center/special-events.