Download Orientation - Wyalusing State Park

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Proficiency Step #1---Orientation
What Is StarSplitters?
The word “StarSplitters” (from a Robert Frost poem), describes an astronomy group perhaps better than any
other word. The act of splitting stars is a very real practice that involves looking through a telescope with
enough magnification to make a closely-spaced double star “split” into two separate, distinct stars. There are
many double stars in the sky which appear as a single star to the naked eye, but which “split” when viewed
with a telescope. This is only one of many fun things you can do with a telescope—or even binoculars!
The StarSplitters began in the fall of 1999 with a group of local amateur astronomy enthusiasts who wanted to
create a local place where anyone could go to observe and learn about the night sky. After looking for “dark”
areas nearby that would serve as a suitable viewing location, it was decided that Wyalusing State Park would
be ideal since it is away from the lights of Prairie du Chien somewhat, and has a steady stream of people who
might be interested in some nighttime activities. The founding members donated telescopes and time and
began planning a facility with the blessings of the Friends of Wyalusing (nonprofit support group for the State
Park), the Dept. of Natural Resources Park officials, and economic support from local benefactors—including
the Family of the late Lawrence Huser who served many years as a Wyalusing Park Naturalist and manager.
With time—and much effort—a respectable observatory has emerged and grown to the point where it can be a
valuable source of education for interested groups. Although still a small organization (about 30 members), the
enthusiasm and dedication to provide a “free” and fascinating learning environment for everyone--is alive and
well.
As a new “StarSplitter,” it is important to realize that all of our activities are strictly voluntary. If, for instance,
you want to simply “support” the club and it’s goals, you can simply join—and then sit back and observe our
activities as a worthwhile cause. On the other hand, if you want to look through the telescopes and learn a few
constellations—just for fun, that’s perfectly fine and we encourage and appreciate whatever interest people
have. If you have always wanted to delve a little deeper into the mysteries and wonders of the universe, we
have set up a series of “steps” to help you learn—little-by-little. And if you wish to become an experienced
“expert” in any particular field of study such as planets or comets or astrophotography, we will help with that,
too—and learn together.
As in any area of study, in the beginning, it is sometimes seen as an overwhelming challenge to learn
“everything,” but the reality of it is that no one learns it all quickly—there is simply too much. The best way to
truly enjoy astronomy is to start with the things that interest you most—whether it is simply looking through the
telescopes, or pointing out constellations, or whatever. Take your time and learn at your own pace—no one is
expecting more than that. The vast knowledge will come to you little-by-little automatically as you take in the
wonders---and it gets more and more fun as you progress.
Since modern astronomy is necessarily tied closely to technology, we, as a group, have embraced email as
our principal means of communication. We have business meetings—which really are business—scheduled
as needed. A lot goes on between meetings, though, and we “talk” regularly by email. Any email discussion
that the group should or could hear is sent to the recipient with a copy to everyone. That way we are all
somewhat informed about what the group is up to. All members are encouraged to create a “group” in their
email program in order to communicate “en masse.” We also occasionally have member viewing nights. This
is when we use the telescopes for our own interests and enjoyment. Public viewing nights are also scheduled
(occasionally) so that everyone can discover what it is all about—and we take turns presenting small programs
and demonstrating what’s “up there.”
As you become more proficient in the training “steps,” you will be given free access to the telescopes. It is
crucial that this equipment be treated with considerable respect because of it’s sensitivity to all kinds of
abuses—including bumps and scratches and weather and dust. When you can demonstrate proper care and
operation of the equipment, it will be yours to use—with our blessings.
One of the main principals of the StarSplitters is that astronomy is for everyone. We are here to teach as well
as learn. Part of the agreement with the State Park is that the facility and equipment and knowledge be
available for park guests—as well as the general public—and us. We, therefore, make a genuine effort to
provide guided public viewing nights as a service to our hosts (the park) and their guests (the campers). It is a
win-win situation: the park can offer campers interesting evening activities, and we have a “home” for our
facility and equipment. Great!
Membership dues are collected once yearly. This helps with operating expenses. We think you will find the
dues a considerable bargain—and a good cause. The first time you look through a 10” scope and see the
rings of Saturn, you will understand—this is not a picture of Saturn, it is Saturn itself—in color—for real!
StarSplitter members are automatically enrolled as members of the Astronomical Society. This is a world-wide
organization of astronomy enthusiasts. You will receive a society magazine and will be able to attend
conventions, etc. StarSplitters are also eligible for discounts on Sky & Telescope magazine—the premier
astronomy magazine that is full of fascinating information, articles and photos—every month. We also have a
growing library of past magazines, books, videos, and software that will be of considerable value to you as you
learn. And then there is….us. All “old” members are enthusiastic about guiding new members (at their own
rate) through the process of leaning and appreciating astronomy. None of it is required. You can come and
participate as you wish. Over time, we think you will acquire a new and valuable understanding of the
universe—and when someone says, “Look, the big dipper!” You will say, “Yes, but it isn’t actually a
constellation. It’s an asterism, and it is a principal “pointer” to many things of interest in the sky. It contains
double stars, galaxies, star clusters, nebulas, and variable stars, and is circumpolar.”
The StarSplitters is a relatively new organization, but in the few short years of its existence, it has grown into a
very respectable, well equipped, interesting and informative pastime for many people. It is a very worthwhile
endeavor that will be of considerable benefit for anyone who has ever looked “up.”
Suggested Website:
www.wyalusing.org (Click on “StarGazing” to see more StarSplitters and Astronomy information)