Mt. Shasta Star Gazers Club
By Kayla Anderson
One Starry NightBy Kayla Anderson
Photo by Josh Meier
The Northern California night sky is one of the best in the country, with plenty of places to view the gateway into space. A smattering of at least a billion sparkling stars dot the dark blanket above, reminding us just how small we are in the universe.
Taking the opportunity to observe the night sky can unlock secrets, history and glimpses into how space could change in the future. There is so much to look at in the purely dark sky, including constellations, nebulas, comets, galaxies, planets and more, that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. That’s why the Mt. Shasta Star Gazers Club formed in 2009, to talk about the stars.
Originally created by Jim Havlice, a Northern California resident who holds a PhD in applied physics from Stanford University and used to own Language Quest in Mount Shasta, the Mt. Shasta Star Gazers Club is now managed by his friend and co-founder Russ Adamson.
“When we formed, our small group had members that had been part of ‘big city’ clubs that were quite formal and members were often in competition with each other. We wanted something a bit smaller and friendly,” Adamson says of the informal group. The Mt. Shasta Star Gazers is a mix of characters that includes casual star enthusiasts, amateur astronomers, educators and professional astrophysicists.
“When we get interested folks, often they are ready to buy a scope and dive right in. The best thing is don’t buy anything. Visit a star party and look though the scopes the club members have. That way you can see what is up in the sky and what level of scope will get you there,” Adamson says.
Adamson says that not much equipment is needed to enjoy the stars – larger telescopes can provide more aperture, allowing the lens to gather more light from the viewed object, thus creating a sharper image, but a larger telescope is not necessary.
“Back in the 1980s, eight-inch telescopes were about as large as the amateur would go. I had a four-inch scope. Back then, when you looked at a globular cluster or nebula, you would see a fuzzy white patch much like a cotton ball. Today there are a lot of options for scopes and accessories. Now 12-inch scopes are very common and 16-inch scopes with computer controls or go-to scopes are within the reach of serious amateurs. With these larger scopes, the fuzzy globular clusters or nebulas are now refined, and you can see groups of stars or wisps of gas and dust. What you see in the eyepiece will never be as detailed as pictures on the internet, but it is still very gratifying,” he says.
Star parties are open to anyone (children must be accompanied by an adult), free and usually held up at Castle Lake – a high-elevation spot (to be closer to the night sky) on nights closest to the new moon. Adamson contends that the biggest issue with seeing the stars in a remote place is when someone drives into a viewing location with their headlights on, causing light pollution that greatly diminishes what one can see with the naked eye.
“When that happens, it takes about 20 minutes for you to get your night vision back,” Adamson says. However, in a completely dark sky, people can see binary stars, nebulas, gamma rays, asteroids and meteor showers, with little or no extra equipment.
“There are very few things you ‘need’ to buy to enjoy the night sky. A red flashlight, a planisphere or a free sky chart app for your phone will help. You will really enjoy yourself if you bring a comfortable chair and binoculars. But the most important part is getting out to see the dark skies,” Adamson says.•
Mt. Shasta Star Gazers Club • www.mtshastastargazers.com