BAY VILLAGE — If galaxies far, far away are your thing, the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s Astronomy Club is for you. The monthly club meets again tonight at 6:30, and is open to astronomy enthusiasts ages 12 and up.
Bill Reed, Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s planetarium specialist, launched the club in April. His goal was two-fold: He wanted to start a social group to encourage those with new or general interest in space or astronomy, and as a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, he wanted to present news and information outside the center’s regularly scheduled Schuele Planetarium programs.
Reed is armed with more than 20 years of conducting astronomy outreach, and was a manufacturing engineer on numerous JPL Mars Rover programs, as well as a USAF Research Machinist with the Air Force Research Lab Propulsion Directorate. As an avid amateur sky watcher and telescope builder, Reed also spent time as a docent at Mt. Wilson Observatory in Pasadena, California.
But as he and Bay Middle School student Angie Ingraham talk about whether or not Pluto is a planet, he just seems like a really cool, science teacher. Angie found out about Astronomy Club by attending other Schuele programming at the center. Active in performing arts, the 12-year-old was excited to find something that challenged the other side of her brain. She and her mom, Tina Ingraham, have been attending Astronomy Club since May.
“I’ve always been an astronomy person, but there’s never been a family-friendly activity for astronomy, or something just for astronomy,” said Angie, clad in a NASA T-shirt.
Angie said she’s learning a lot from Reed and the rest of the group, but she especially enjoys talking about constellations.
“I’m learning a lot more than I initially thought I would,” Angie said. “Especially constellations. I never knew many constellations. I also like learning about the gadgets. And I’ve learned how to use my telescope. It was a Christmas gift, and now I know how to use it.”
Attendance for the club has peaked at 35, and it’s drawing members of all ages from Avon Lake, Bay Village, Rocky River and Westlake.
Having been a member of dozens of astronomy clubs, Reed said those experiences were the genesis for starting this type of club, with members of all ages, from tweens to seniors, and all levels of interest.
“Most (astronomy clubs) skew very old, very gray and are very inclusive,” Reed said. “It can be intimidating, and there is not a lot of patience for relative newcomers. The spirit of this club is very different. Our emphasis is the social aspect of it.”
Reed said the club might start its meeting in the center’s larger River Room meeting space, then head to the dome (the center’s Schuele Planetarium) and then go out in the field with telescopes.
Reed compares his round-table-style meetings to an episode of the “Top Gear” TV series. He and all members contribute to regular topic segments such as news and current events; gadgets and gear; astro-tainment; and mind-blowing facts. (Ex: The core of the sun is 29 million degrees. A grain of sand this hot would kill someone 100 miles away.)
Bay Village resident Greg Lucak joined Astronomy Club to learn how to better use his telescope. He’s hoping to bring his son, Nicholas, 12, to the next meeting.
“It’s harder than you expect to use a telescope,” Lucak said. “I want to learn more about what I’m looking at. I joined to learn from Bill and others in the club.”
Reed said he tries to make the club as all-encompassing as possible, and focuses on more observational things such as viewing the moon and the planets.
“Having been lucky enough to have been mentored over the years, it is a passion of mine to help grow the hobby and maybe in some small way inspire someone to a future career in space science,” Reed said.
Although membership to the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center is not required, Reed said a membership to the center complements the club. The center offers telescope nights and planetarium programs that can take Astronomy Club discussions to the next level.
Astronomy Club meets at 6:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center. Club meetings last about 45 to 60 minutes. For more information, visit lensc.org.
According to the NASA website, the Solar System Ambassadors Program is a public engagement effort that works with motivated volunteers across the nation to communicate the science and excitement of NASA's space exploration missions and discoveries in their communities. The program started in 1997, and consists of 730 ambassadors who conduct approximately 2,400 annual events that reach about 500,000 people.