The Night Sky | Astronomical Societies & Public Observing

Our friendly, neighborhood science blogger ikenbot posted a brief “FYI” promoting the importance of astronomy organizations to the amateur astronomer (see below):

If you’re really serious about your amateur astronomy I recommend you take the time out to do a bit of research on what are the public organizations for astronomy in your area. In it you’ll learn what scopes to use, how to read charts, find asterisms, constellations, and so much more.

Find your local astronomy clubs/club and see which one is more convenient for you. Once you feel you’ve learned enough to handle your own telescope of your choice, you can buy one based on your taste and the suggestions and recommendations of the experts in the club.

I wholeheartedly agree and must express that you need not be an amateur astronomer to become involved or attend these events, as the best way to increase awareness of our place in space and aid in the public understanding of science is to attend for yourself, bring a friend and share this with others.

The York Astronomical Society

In my hometown of York, PA, the YCAS hosts these monthly events at two locations: the Planetarium at the York Learning Center , and the YCAS Observatory at John Rudy Park.

The Planetarium

The most recent show I viewed with my son was called “Max Goes to the Moon”, in which Max (the dog) and a young girl named Tori take the first trip to the Moon since the Apollo era. Along the way, the story sets the stage for the more sophisticated science of the topics including “Phases of the Moon,” “Wings in Space?,” and “Frisbees and Curve Balls on the Moon” — all thoughtfully explained so that grownups and children can learn together about science. Toward the end, Max and Tori’s trip proves so inspiring to people back on Earth that all the nations of the world come together to build a great Moon colony from which “the beautiful views of Earth from the Moon made everyone realize that we all share a small and precious planet.” You can view the trailer here. (description via YCAS)

Programs range from an introduction to the night sky, telescopes 101, current skywatching tips/advisories, astronomy/cosmology history and interchanging programs to promote a better understanding of science and the importance of astronomy in our culture.

Prices for shows are not the same everywhere. Here, it’s $4 for adults, $3 for children under 18 and seniors. The funds and donations allow the YCAS to flourish through the aid of public interest.

Scouts: Merit Badge Astronomy Workshop

In this two hour class, 15 to 40 scouts will learn there’s more to the night sky than bright dots on a black background. Investigate the stars and other celestial bodies and learn about the tools and methods used by astronomers to study what’s beyond our sight.

Programs are offered Monday through Thursday nights, 6:30 to 8:30 pm. The fee is $8 per scout. There is no charge for the adults chaperoning the scouts; there should be one chaperone for every five scouts. The money raised from these programs goes towards the cost of using the planetarium and developing other astronomy programs for the community. See image (2), above, of the Astronomy Merit Badge.

The Observatory

The YCAS owns 4 research-grade telescopes: a 13.1” f/4.5 Coultier Dobsonian; 12” Meade SCT computerized goto telescope; 10" SCT Meade telescope; 4.5” Newtonian telescope; 4” Astro-Physics Refractor telescope; Celestron NexStar i 8 GoTo telescope with GPS; two 8” Dobsonian telescopes; Coronado PST Solar Telescope; and a single 12’ dish antenna for radio astronomy, and associated electronic recording equipment.

This caliber of equipment has enabled views of galaxies such as Andromeda, Whirlpool and Sombrero; nebula’s such as the Ring, Orion and Crab nebula, along with pristine views of the planets such as recently captured Saturn (below via a CCD display, courtesy of YCAS Member and Hubble Space Telescope Commanding Astronomer, Mike Wenz, pictured above as well) along with many other celestial objects.

During peak viewing times for comet PANSTARRS, a special observing night was held for the public to witness the setting of the fuzzy beauty. Click here to view my published post on the event.The photo below was taken by another amateur astronomer and YCAS member who is also a member of the Planetary Society as well.

Let me just state that I am not a member of the YCAS. i began going nearly 3 years ago while learning to effectively use my Edmund Scientific Astroscan. From the moment I set up my equipment I was approached by stargazers in the form of parents, children, grandparents and other amateur astronomers to check out the scope, talk science/space and enjoy the night sky. Ever since, it’s provided me a place to volunteer (other than tumblr) where I can share my passion for the cosmos and pass on information to the public alongside veteran astronomers who become preoccupied with calibrating their scopes and equipment while attempting to field questions at the same time.

I encourage all of you to look into your local astronomical societies and attend these public observing opportunities to learn, engage and educate. Ad astra.


I’ve been asked several times what telescope I would recommend for a beginner. Personally, I don’t have a very complex scope and am certainly not proficient in the use of the higher end optics. When I purchased my first telescope, I was so anxious to stargaze that I impulsively and naively bought a used Galileo telescope from someone on craigslist selling it for $50. The telescope was a 120mm Newtonian reflector weighing in at around 38 lbs including the tripod:

Properly, it was the Galileo FS120DX 1000 x 120mm Newtonian Reflector Telescope.

I had planned a trip to my favorite stargazing spot in Coudersport, PA: Cherry Springs State Park, a registered astronomy reserve protected from light pollution by the International Dark Sky Association.

For more information (and credit for the photo), read “Pennsylvania’s Dark Secret”

Unfortunately, regarding this particular telescope, things didn’t quite work out as I had planned. The telescope’s tripod shifted underneath my bike and became bent - unusable - en route to my destination of Galeton, PA. However, I was prepared with backup equipment. Alas, my wonderful Meade 9x63 Astronomy Binoculars:

Read the reviews via Meade’s Amazon store

Not like a necessarily needed them while at Cherry Springs due to the immensity of the visible night sky, but they have served me quite well as I use them periodically, keeping them well within reach. Since then, I’ve purchased accompanying solar filters for them via Orion, which have proved an amazing extension of their capabilities, to which I can now use them during the day/night, either to view the thousands of stars beyond urban light pollution or during the day to track sunspots on a much closer star…

…but for those of you who asked for my personal recommendation, what I ended up doing was simply searching for a much more portable and durable telescope which would benefit both me and my son. I couldn’t have purchased a better telescope to serve these purposes than when I came across Edmund Scientifics.

I learned of Edmund Scientifics upon a trip to the North Museum of Natural History & Science located adjacent to Franklin & Marshall College. After speaking to the planetarium coordinator, she recommended the online site after I stated my needs and what I was looking for. Stay curious! Ask questions! If it weren’t for my own active inquiry into this, I may have ended up with different equipment, which may have possibly negatively affected my entire stargazing experience!

After receiving my first Edmund Scientifics Catolog, I came across their Astroscan, which sold me immediately:


Along with the above, the package I purchased came with a weatherproof duffel and an added accessory necessity, I purchased the tripod. Altogether I paid a little over $400 for it and it’s been an extension of my vision and my mind ever since.

You can read more about the Astroscan HERE via Wikipedia. I’ve also posted Astroscan photos of the moon (1, 2.

And lastly, allow me to introduce you to you and your telescope’s newest ‘best’ friend, the Clear Sky Chart:

As you can see, this is an astronomer’s noble companion toward planning a successful nightly stargazing session. Clear Sky Charts are more sophisticated weather forecasts, in that they forecast the cloud cover, transparency and astronomical seeing parameters which are not forecast by civil or aviation forecasts. The drawback? This type of meticulous plotting can only forecast outward of 48 hours for a 9 mile radius. Charts for 4,500+ locations are available, which include USA, Canada, parts of Mexico and the Caribbean, along with professional/public observatories, colleges and science centers.

You can view a location’s forecast through the Clear Sky Chart homepage and/or via Android and iPhone apps.

Hope this was useful! Make sure to visit the Deep Astronomy YouTube channel, where astronomer and host Tony Darnell provides a pretty thorough overview on purchasing your first telescope which you will find quite helpful and incredibly informative. As always, stay curious.