A couple weeks ago I spent the weekend geeking out with astronomy buffs and sci-fi fans at the first ever SETIcon. Organized by SETI Institute, the event was filled with a variety of fun and informative panels that re-kindled my love of astronomy. After the event, I had an insatiable desire to do some stargazing — but where to go in the Bay Area?
One of the biggest misconceptions about astronomy is that you need to buy hundreds of dollars worth of equipment to enjoy the hobby. Fortunately this is a myth, and I am going to dispel it right here and right now! Whether you already have a telescope, are interested in building a telescope or are simply discovering a new hobby that can spark the imagination of family members from 5 to 95 years old, there are a variety of opportunities to enjoy the evening sky that are not far from your doorstep.
Here are just a few (free!) options if you don’t have a telescope:
Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley organizes a bi-monthly stargazing event every 1st and 3rd Saturday night of the month, year-round. The next event will be on September 4th at 9 – 11pm. Starting September 18th stargazing will run from 8 – 10pm. For full details and cloudy weather cancellation notices, follow them on Twitter: @lhsstargazing
Jazz Under the Stars at San Mateo Community College is fun, family friendly event that combines jazz music and stargazing. The next event will be on September 18th from 8 -11pm.
Most counties have their own astronomy club: East Bay Astronomical Society, San Francisco Astronomical Society, San Jose Astronomical Association and San Mateo County Astronomical Society offer events every month to look up at the stars. Members are very friendly and eager to engage the community in stargazing. Check their websites for the latest details.
If you’re more serious about Astronomy and would like to spend a few nights stargazing in dark skies, the next major star party is CalStar, from October 7 – 9th midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles near Lake San Antonio. This event is an excellent way to learn from dozens of amateur astronomers, look through telescopes larger than YOU and see a variety of celestial objects. This is my favorite kind of star party!
Now if you really want to go all hard core on astronomy and gain serious nerd cred, there’s a class to teach you how to make your own telescope. Believe it or not, this isn’t as hard as it seems, but it is time consuming. After a few months you’ll come out with a finished telescope that costs a fraction of what it would cost to buy. The Telescope Makers Workshop at Chabot Space and Science Center meets Friday nights from 7-10pm.
So what are you waiting for? Look up!
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