Printer Friendly

VENTURA COUNTY GROUP SEES STARS, LOVES COMETS, TOO.

Byline: Alicia Doyle Daily News Staff Writer

Amateur astronomer Dave Holland was mistaken for a peeping Tom the first time he saw a comet in 1975.

"Someone saw me on my lawn, looking through my telescope, and called the police," said Holland, who was trying to capture a glimpse of Comet West from his Thousand Oaks home 21 years ago. "Once I showed the police what I was actually looking at, they left me alone."

Aside from having the police interrupt his stargazing, Holland will always remember his first good look at a comet as special.

"It was extremely bright and large," Holland said. "It was absolutely beautiful."

Many amateur astronomers will agree that there's nothing like seeing a comet for the first time through a telescope. Nor does anything compare to the excitement of waiting for the moon to block the sun during a solar eclipse.

Some call stargazing spiritual. Others swear that someday humans will live and breath on other planets. But one thing's for certain: Astronomy buffs are enchanted by their celestial pursuit.

"It's hard to explain why we like it so much," said Rick Williams, president of the Ventura County Astronomical Society (VAS). "It's like standing and looking at a sunset or a beautiful landscape. It's a similar experience to looking at a mountain range or waterfalls."

Once a month, amateur astronomers from Ventura County gather in the science building at Moorpark College. Dozens of VAS members discuss new findings in space and changes in deep sky. They hear lectures about how to photograph meteors and how to make their own telescopes.

The VAS star parties are a more social event, when members meet with their telescopes at Mount Pinos and up in Frasier Park to stargaze.

For many, club activities are a time to learn about when the next comet will grace the stratosphere. For others, they're social gatherings of those who share a love for space.

"There's so much out there," said Holland, a VAS member for 20 years. "There's so much to see."

Amateur astronomer Grant Sessions founded VAS, originally called the Oxnard Astronomical and Rocket Society, in 1961. He was a life-time member until he died in 1991.

Holland joined the group when he was 15, soon after he got his first telescope as a birthday present.

"I didn't even know where to point the thing," said Holland, 35. But once he positioned his telescope on the night sky's largest target, he was in awe.

"I was pretty amazed at the moon," Holland said. "That's what got me hooked."

Aside from studying desk-top publishing at a local college, Holland spends most of his spare time doing "astro-photography."

His pictures have been published in Sky and Telescope, a magazine well known to amateur astronomers. He also takes pictures for the VAS annual calendar.

While many club members are interested in the mystery of remote galaxies, star clusters, and anything else outside of the solar system, some find other aspects of space fascinating.

Jim Sumstine, the club's historian for the past three years, said his love for space flight ignited when he was 10.

"I saw Disney's 'Man in Space' . . . That fascinated me," said Sumstine, 51.

Sumstine spent the following years reading, researching and studying anything there was to know about space flight.

In the mid-1950s, he became fascinated by the X-15 rocket, which set historical speed records. In 1957, Sumstine turned his attention to the Russians, who launched the Sputnik 1.

"Then, every time they announced a new rocket launch, I was just fascinated by it," Sumstine said. "I read everything I could about it. I watched the TV and listened to the radio."

Rocket launches, star parties and meetings aside, VAS members are anticipating a newcomer to the skies.

Comet Hale-Bopp, which amateur astronomers say may be the most dazzling celestial sight in decades, is expected to light up the heavens by spring 1997.

The vast tail of evanescent dust and gas that flows out of a comet as it nears the sun can occasionally span almost half the visible sky and be bright enough to be seen in daylight. But the tail originates from the evaporation of the icy surface of the comet's nucleus - and the rate of that evaporation is notoriously hard to forecast.

Still, astronomers monitoring Hale-Bopp say it has a much better chance of becoming a spectacular sight than did Comet Kohoutek, which fell miserably short of predictions of a dramatic show in 1973.

"We're trying not to put too much hoopla into it yet," Williams said. "We're just hoping, as it approaches the earth, it will be spectacular."

The Ventura County Astronomical Society meets every third Friday of the monthat 7:30 p.m. in room S202 (science building) at Moorpark College, Campus Park Drive. For more information, call the Starline at 805-529-7813.

CAPTION(S):

PHOTO

Photo (color in SIMI and CONEJO editions only) Dave Holland, a Ventura County Astronomical Society member, leans on a Moorpark College telescope. Gus Ruelas/Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 22, 1996
Words:835
Previous Article:LEGAL AID FACING BIG CUTS\Attorneys for the poor say most new cases must be turned away.
Next Article:WORKSHOP EASES FEARS ABOUT FINANCIAL AID FOR STUDENTS.


Related Articles
BRIEFLY : GRAVEL TRUCK, VAN COLLIDE, KILLING ONE.
GTE DONATES $30,000 TO SCIENCE CENTER; THOUSAND OAKS MUSEUM TO SPEND FUNDS ON PORTABLE SKY LAB EXHIBIT.
GROUP TO GATHER, STARGAZE.
STUDENT, TEACHER TRACK COMET.
ASTRONOMERS POLISH THEIR LENSES : PHOTO BUFFS READY FOR HALE-BOPP VISIT.
HOMEPAGE: CONEJO VALLEY : HOSPICE SPECIAL PERSON'S LESSON: COUNTY YOUR BLESSINGS.
HOMEPAGE: SIMI VALLEY / MOORPARK : HEAVENS SPEAK TO HAMS.
MOONSTRUCK : LOCAL STARGAZERS FOCUS ON LUNAR ECLIPSE.
IT'S ALL IN THE STARS FOR COUNTY SOCIETY.
BRIEFLY.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters