Gaze at the stars with Miami Valley Astronomical Society at John Bryan State Park

By Lisa Bennett

Photo: Amateur astronomers gather at John Bryan State Park to view the skies; photo: Glenn E. Johnson

Darkness—it beckons the far reaches of imagination and taunts us with nightmares both real and intangible. Though darkness sometimes shields depravity, it also hosts some of the most otherworldly and breathtaking mysteries that exist. Some scientists are now saying that plants grow at night, rather than during the day. Other discoveries, such as bioluminescent creatures and fish with no eyes that live in the darkest regions of the ocean floor, continue to mesmerize and intrigue us. But there is something else dwelling in the darkness, something so spectacular that people braved the darkest of nights for tens of thousands of years to see. The night sky.

In fact, right here in Ohio a group of intrepid amateur astronomers gathers regularly to enjoy the starry skies. The group, now almost a century old, began in 1918 as the Dayton Astronomical Society. It was the very first formal group of curious amateur astronomers to form in the Dayton area. One of its founding members was none other than Colonel Edward Deeds, engineer, inventor, and once president of National Cash Register.

The name of the group was eventually changed to Miami Valley Astronomical Society (MVAS), but the spectacular events members get to witness have remained as incredible today as they were a century ago. Every August, for example, you can see the Perseid meteor shower. Other sights on the horizon include the full moon on March 12, the Spring Equinox on March 20, and the new moon on March 28.  And don’t forget the Lyrids Meteor shower coming up in April.

“There is an event every night of the week. You just have to look for it,” says Linda Weiss, MVAS president.

Not all celestial events are natural, however. If you look carefully, you can spot the International Space Station. Fortunately, enjoying those events is as easy as setting up a lawn chair and using a pair of binoculars. Even knowing where to look has become a breeze. As Weiss says, “There’s an app for that! Locating objects in the sky is relatively easy with a star chart. The hard part is staying up late; a lot of objects don’t become visible until late night or early morning.”

Of course, the more you learn, the more you want to advance your ability to see deeper into space, and even photograph what you see. Oberwerk Corp. in Dayton has knowledgeable staff that can help you find the equipment that’s right for your skill level, experience, and, most importantly, your wallet.

“When you’re ready to graduate to a telescope, we encourage you to attend our telescope event the third Friday in November at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. You are also welcome to attend any of our public events to ask our members about telescopes that may be right for you,” Weiss says. “Remember, bigger and more expensive isn’t always better!”

Before you spend any money, however, you might want to go on a sky watch or two to get a little experience and talk to folks who have been stargazing for a while.

On March 18, you have the opportunity to do just that at no cost with MVAS at a star gaze at John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs. Amateur astronomy experts and enthusiasts alike will welcome newcomers and answer questions. If you don’t have any equipment of your own, don’t worry—MVAS has telescopes set up for you to use. View some of the planets in our own solar system, get a great view of the moon and perhaps, a few other surprises.

All you need is a chair to sit in, warm clothes, and a snack or two. (Just be wary of the wildlife!) One important rule: make sure to only use a flashlight with a red lens, because white flashlights interfere with views. MVAS members also love to share what they know with students, scouts, and children interested in astronomy, but children under the age of 18 need to be supervised by an adult at all times.

If the ethereal pull of the night sky draws you to a star gazing event, or simply to a lawn chair in your own backyard, remember that thousands of years ago your ancestors did the exact same thing and were no less mesmerized than you. In fact, some of them were so inspired, they went on to invent the very things that make it possible for the International Space Station to orbit above you and for you to gaze far into the distant reaches of space with a telescope. So be daring, be adventurous, and be ready for the darkness to take your breath away.

The Miami Valley Astronomical Society’s star gaze takes place starting at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18 at John Bryan State Park, 3790 Ohio 370 in Yellow Springs. The event is free. To view locations and time to spot the International Space Station, please visit SpotTheStation.NASA.gov. For more information on Oberwerk, please visit Oberwerk.com. For more information about MVAS or the event, please visit MVAS.org.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lisa Bennett at LisaBennett@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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