Stargazers escape the light pollution of Athens to peer into the heavens

http://www.thepostathens.com/article/2016/09/ohio-university-stargazing-star-party

After dark, Athens has many sights to see — and not all of them are within this solar system.

Using a telescope with the right amount of power, like the eight-inch model Ethan Gower brings to each of his “Star Party” events, one can peer into the sky to catch a glimpse of double stars, Neptune, nebulas and infinitely more celestial objects.

During the Star Party, Gower described his Dobsonian telescope as “basically a light bucket.” A Dobsonian telescope has a simple design that allows it to be affordable and available for amateur astronomers. Gower and sophomore Jack Deffet have hosted a series of stargazing events, the last of which took place Friday night. To combat the light pollution Athens radiates, the group convened on a hillside in the State Street Cemetery, beyond the neon glow of Court Street. The previous one had been held at the rugby field on South Green.

Dubbed “Star Party 5.2,” Gower, a junior studying astrophysics, said the event attracted more people than any of the previous four star parties. The “.2” in the title accounts for two weather-obstructed attempts. Only sparse clouds obscured Friday night’s view.

As bright as Athens might seem, the light pollution in Athens is not as bad as other areas, George Eberts, an assistant professor of astronomy and physics said.

“O’Bleness Hospital and the mall have (light) cut-offs at certain times because that’s what contractors are required now,” Eberts said.

He said lighting ordinances reduce the light pollution as well.

At the height of the evening, 12 to 15 stargazers trickled in and out. Each time Gower adjusted his large, cylindrical telescope to the next star, planet or star group, the attendees formed a line to to have an up-close view of an elusive sight.

The main event for the evening, Gower said, occurred at 11:44 p.m., when Algol, “the demon star,” would become eclipsed by a smaller star, causing it to flicker and dim.

“Algol is eclipsed every two and seven-eighths days, so you can’t exactly wait for it,” Eberts said.

Those in attendance showed their appreciation for the event.

“It’s cool that Ethan is taking the time do this,” Trevor Seymour, a college student studying in Columbus, said. “He’s really knowledgeable about everything. It’s a perfect spot and everyone is in good spirits.”

As an astrophysics major, Gower said his fascination with space started when he read a space-themed National Geographic magazine as a child. He aspires to work for NASA and holds a special interest in Pluto — he said he would like to lead a mission traveling there, although the long exposure of radiation to the human body would render it difficult.

“My friends say I know too much about space,” Gower said. “There’s so much to learn about in astronomy. Just two days ago I learned two new things.”

He had previously borrowed an 8 inch inch reflector telescopes used by professors in OU’s astronomy department. He now uses his own 8 inch Dobsonian telescope that is glossy blue, wide and cylindrical.

“Telescopes are measured by their aperture in inches,” Eberts said. “The wider the reflector mirror inside, the more surface area is exposed to starlight.”

Eberts said telescope apertures reach to sizes of two meters and larger.

One stargazer said she appreciated the event’s focus.

“We describe it as really pure — no drinking or drugs,” Alayna Coverly, a senior studying painting and drawing, said.

Gower pointed the telescope at star groups such as Pisces and Taurus until attention transferred to the fading of the demon star in the Perseus constellation.

The star dimmed, much like the evening, ending another stargazing expedition.

Gower, however, plans to host another Star Party on October 27 when Saturn, Venus and a star align.

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