Indulge Your Sense Of Wonder
Of all the wonders of the Bay Area, let us not ignore those that are free and found overhead each evening. In the San Francisco Bay Area, with its wealth of astronomical knowledge and stargazing opportunities, the general public has a plethora of professional and amateur astronomers willing and able to share their time and their knowledge of the wonders of the universe. This confluence of great universities, astronomical observatories, and a very strong group of amateur and professional astronomical societies allows anyone interested in the cosmos endless means to indulge that interest. Somewhere near you, a public "star party" is taking place. In the Golden Gate National Parks, look for such parties between February and October at Lands End, hosted by the National Park Service and the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers.
Whether your interests include the planets of our Solar System or
the further reaches of theoretical cosmology (the study of the origins of the universe),
you will find a professional astronomer speaking on your topic several times a year.
In San Francisco
The Morrison Planetarium (750-7141, www.calacademy.org/planetarium) in Golden Gate Park hosts the Benjamin Dean Lecture Series of eminent astronomers each year. Our own San Francisco Amateur Astronomers (566-2357, www.sfaa-astronomy.org) meets there on the third Wednesday of the month. The SFAA also hosts many famous lecturers, such as the internationally acclaimed extrasolar planet finder, Dr. Geoff Marcy. For public telescope viewing on the city's sidewalks, check out the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers (289-2007, www.sfsidewalkastronomers.org). NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field (www.arc.nasa.gov) also encourages its scientists to do public outreach and provides speakers to clubs and universities.
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (415-337-1100, www.astrosociety.com), founded in 1889, is the oldest amateur and professional nonprofit organization in the United States. Working to increase the public's understanding and appreciation of astronomy, they publish Mercury, a popular bimonthly magazine that is as good as (and often better than) the more widely available monthlies. This year's annual ASP meeting at UC Berkeley drew more than a thousand people and featured such famous astronomers as Drs. Alex Filippenko and David Morrison.
More than 25 members of the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers brought telescopes to
the most recent Mt. Tam Star Party. Photo courtesy: Robert Naeye
The San Francisco Amateur Astronomers assisted the ASP in hosting a Star Party at Mt. Tam (which holds star parties near the time of the new moon in the summer months) after a public lecture by nationally known author David Levy. The ASP has also matched amateur and professional astronomers with science teachers to bring the excitement of astronomy to the classroom. Anyone with astronomical curiosity is encouraged to join the ASP and support this grand old San Francisco institution and its good works.
East bay, South bay
Another local institution is Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center (510-336-7300, www.chabotspace.org), located at 10000 Skyline Boulevard. Set on 13 parkland acres, it is home to a state of the art planetarium, theater, science museum, education center, and observatory complex. Their 20-inch refracting telescope is open to the public for viewing on Friday and Saturday evenings. The center sponsors a Telescope Maker's Workshop (founded in 1930) on Friday nights from 7 to 10 pm.
Chabot also hosts the Eastbay Astro-nomical Society (www.eastbayastro.org), founded in 1924; the society has had numerous attendees during its many years of existence‹Albert Einstein attended one of its meetings! In addition, those with an interest in the history of astronomy would find something of interest at the Northern California Historical Astronomy Luncheon and Discussion Association (www.nchalada.org), which meets quarterly in Chabot's boardroom.
Travel to the South Bay for a visit to the Lick Observatory (831-459-2513, www.ucolick.org). Founded in 1888 by the eccentric millionaire James Lick, it is located 20 miles east of San Jose and managed by the University of California. This observatory is open daily and offers tours of the historic 36-inch Great Lick Refractor and the 120-inch reflecting telescope.
On the Web
Check these websites for further information. Fremont Peak Observatory Association (www.fpoa.net), San Jose Astronomical Association (www.sjaa.
net), and Peninsula Astronomical Society (www.fda.edu/ast/pas). For
the San Mateo County Astronomical Society and many other contacts, investigate the resources at the Astronomical Association of Northern California (www.aanc.astronomy.org).
The Bay Area offers a wealth of astronomical opportunities. Whatever your interest, you will find someplace to satisfy your curiosity and sense of wonder. If you have never looked through a telescope, find a star party and experience the beauty of the night sky for yourself.
Bill Stepka is past president of the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers and also proud member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the Eastbay Astronomical Society. He spent two of the best weeks in his life as a student in residence at Mt. Wilson Observatory near Pasadena using the historic 60-inch reflecting telescope.
Stargazing at Hume Observatory, the California Academy of Sciences observatory in
Sonoma County. Photo courtesy: Jane and/or Morris Jones, San Rafael, CA