“Wow!” children exclaim as they look up at the cloudy night sky from a Baton Rouge baseball field. Despite the clouds, the students from Louisiana Key Academy are starstruck. Through scopes and binoculars, they can see the Orion Nebula and Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
The stargazing is part of an early February school event for the Baton Rouge Astronomical Society. Steven Tilley, BRAS president, says hearing people shout “Wow!” is one of his favorite aspects of being a part of the group. It happens most often, he says, when people look at the moon through a telescope.
Established in 1981, the organization has long been a home to astronomy lovers both amateur and experienced. Some members look at the night sky merely for fun, while others are experienced enough to submit useful data to professional astronomers.
The group is about 100 members strong and counting. Members meet at the Highland Road Park Observatory monthly to discuss all manner of things related to astronomy.
They host public field events throughout the year all over Baton Rouge, as well as “star parties,” during which amateur astronomers who are part of the group meet under a dark sky to enjoy the view.
“No telescope is needed to start the hobby,” Tilley says. “One can start off by just looking at the moon, planets and stars.”
He recommends starting with an inexpensive set of binoculars with wide aperture. Once you’re ready to purchase a telescope, you can browse through many different types at BRAS events to see which one you like best.
Tilley, 45, was a member of the club when he was a teenager but let his membership lapse after his high school graduation. He rejoined in 2014 after rediscovering his love for the moon and tracking low-flying space rocks. He signs each of his emails with “Clear Skies”—clear skies are essential to skyward exploration, after all.
While going out into the field and looking to the celestial heavens is the biggest reward for BRAS members, they also receive a monthly newsletter, discounts on astronomy magazines, and automatic membership in the Astronomical League, an umbrella organization made up of more than 240 amateur astronomy clubs across the country.
“It’s an opportunity just to learn more things about the night sky,” Tilley says. “Astronomy takes you out of yourself because when you see how awesome the universe actually is, it’s mind boggling.”
At its core, astronomy is looking up. Taking in the fiery beauty and wonder of our solar system is what the Baton Rouge Astronomical Society is all about.
The best time to look up, Tilley says, is right after twilight.
HOW TO JOIN
Visit brastro.org to find info on the group’s next meeting and apply for a $20 annual membership.
Click here to head back to our club headquarters.
This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of 225 Magazine.