Jim Slater

Jim Slater

Astronomy club seeing stars

Nanaimo Astronomy Society members might care about the best of the city, but they care even more about the best above the city.

Nanaimo Astronomy Society members might care about the best of the city, but they care even more about the best above the city.

The astronomy club is quite active in Nanaimo, meeting monthly between September and June.

“We have a nuclear physicist and we have kids, and everybody in between,” said Bill Weller, a member of the society. “All it takes is an interest in learning a little bit about the sky.”

He said he’s seen a burly, blue-collar guy shed tears at seeing Saturn’s rings for the first time, and it’s motivating to be able to share those sorts of things and see those sorts of reactions.

“Even with our little telescopes here, you can see the ice cap on Mars, the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter,” said Weller. “Everything that Galileo saw.”

Chris Boar, society president, said most of the public has never seen a magnified view of the planets and the stars.

“If you show people the sun through a solar telescope and they can see the flares coming off the side, they can’t believe it,” he said.

Even for members who stargaze regularly, there are rare phenomena such as Venus transiting in front of the sun a couple years back, or the recent blood moon.

“There’s these astronomical events that you only tend to get to see once or twice in a lifetime. It still generates excitement,” Boar said.

The society’s regular meetings include presentations on a variety of subjects; a recent topic was the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Club members also get together for special-event viewings, and hold occasional public viewing sessions on clear nights, usually at Maffeo Sutton Park. Society members sometimes get together for star parties on dark new-moon nights and they have a ‘dark site’ they go to on the outskirts of town.

A few years ago the astronomy club expressed interest in a ‘dark sky project’ at Westwood Lake, with hopes of eliminating light pollution in the area. The project is still on the club’s radar, Boar said, but there have been some logistical problems with getting street lights turned off.

“We’re losing the dark sky,” he said.

Maybe that makes it more worthwhile to take the time to look up, now.

“People, I think, become disengaged from nature and the surroundings they’re in because they’re just engrossed in their electronic devices all day,” Boar said. “So it’s nice to get away from … the hustle and chaos and just relax and look up at the stars and see what’s up there.”