Stargazers turn out in droves for last ‘star party’ of 2019 – Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register

Venus and Jupiter were the opening act.

At twilight, the two planets, visible to the naked eye, appeared to nearly bump into each other before setting in the western sky.

That 'conjunction' kicked off the last star party of 2019 for the Tulare Astronomical Association. Between 50 and 70 people turned out toArthur Pursell Observatory to gaze up at the heavens and see Saturn's rings, the Andromeda Galaxy, double stars, different types of star clusters and various planetary nebulas.

The International Space Station even made a quick appearance, shooting across the sky at 5 miles per second.

Tulare Astronomical Association member Butch Demmers gives a presentation during the star party at the Arthur Pursell Observatory on Saturday, Nov. 23.(Photo: Kyra Haas)

Before most of the viewing got underway, TAA member and former club president Butch Demmers presentedinside the club's meeting roomto give attendees a better sense of what they would see.

"That way, they would have a little bit more knowledge of when they're looking at something, what that something is instead of just a patch of light up in the sky," Demmers said.

Outside the dome, which holds the club's 12.5 inchCave Astrola Telescope, club members set up other telescopes on pads to show gazers different parts of the night sky.

Club members Don and Sally Belflowerof Bakersfieldnot only showed viewers the stars, but also how to operate the telescope, twisting knobs to center the star in a projected bullseye, then adjusting the focus to view the object clearly.

Sally said Don became interested in astronomy when their daughter was 8 or 9, thinking it was a way to "expand her horizons." Ten years later, Don and Sally are active members of both Tulare's and Bakersfield's astronomy clubs. Their daughter occasionally participates, but not as much.

"She's 18," Sally said with a laugh. "She does OK, but it's not her thing."

Star party attendees line up to look in the telescope at the Arthur Pursell Observatory on Saturday, Nov. 23.(Photo: Kyra Haas)

MichaelTeller, 12, was at the star party with his mother, Marianna, and three of his four siblings. They came to surprise his father, Joseph, an English professor and TAA member with a passion for astronomy.

"Our youngest is 4 now, and it's to the point where we can actually all make it," Marianna said.

Michael said his fascination with astronomy started around age 9 when his father started taking him to TAA events. He said the coolest thing he's ever seen is a meteor.

"It was right over there, and there were orange flames shooting behind it for like three seconds," he said.

Saturday was the last star party of the calendar year becausecloudy, rainy and cold weather in December and January aren'tideal for viewing,Demmers said.

Many of the telescopes, he said, have corrector plates thatare subject to getting "dewed up" when the air has high humidity,which also makes winter observation a challenge.

"Once it gets fogged up, you can't un-fog it," he said.

Demmers said they'll start hosting star parties again around February.

TAA started in 1967 and has about 30 active members. The group's next discussion is at 7:30 p.m. onDec. 4, at the observatory.

The Tulare Astronomical Association sign hangs adjacent to the observing dome at Arthur Pursell Observatory.(Photo: Kyra Haas)

Stars light up the night sky during a star party outside Arthur Pursell Observatory on Saturday, Nov. 23.(Photo: Kyra Haas)

Reach reporter Kyra Haasby emailat khaas@visaliatimesdelta.com or find her onTwitter@kc_haas.

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Stargazers turn out in droves for last 'star party' of 2019 - Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register

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