By Dennis Smith

How did it begin?.

Ten years ago (1987) I asked Anne Hance whether the Science Center would allow me to try to start an Astronomy Club. I wanted to start the club for three reasons: (1) the astronomy club in Sacramento, though a fine one, was too distant for me, (2) I had purchased a telescope and was desperate to justify its expense, and (3) I wanted to learn more about astronomy. About the last reason, a professor once told me : "You don't learn anything until you teach it." I have found he was correct. Every meeting topic and every group of members teaches me more about astronomy and my own ignorance. I chose to take the title of "host" of the club, since it did not imply that I was an expert. I have never taken a class in astronomy. Also, to me "host" sounded friendly. I figured that eventually a Ph.D. in astronomy would lead the club and I could just sit back, watch and listen at the meetings. To my surprise, I am still the "host." Once, when a Science Center Board member asked me why I continued on in my role, I had to confess: "Why, of course, it's the power, the POWER, THE POWER!" He thought I was hilarious.

Our first meeting.
The Astronomy Club's first monthly meetings began when the Science Center was located at WDI (which became Willett Elementary School in September). That is also where our first meeting was held. It was well attended, thanks to the presence of my sister, in-laws, and family. As I recall, my slide show was probably too long, certainly my mother in law labored mightily to keep awake. Like virtually every meeting since, at least half of the attendees were new. I certainly hope this turnover in attendance is due to the enormous variety of other activities that compete for the attention of Davisites. Apart from being the first meeting, the evening was notable for another reason. I had the good fortune to meet Tim Feldman, who is my valuable associate in the club, and good friend.

Biggest meeting--Perseid Meteor Party.
August 11, 1993 was forecast to be one of the best nights for meteor showers in recent history. It occurred on a Wednesday, when the Davis Farmers Market and the Davis Downtown Business Association were holding a combined summer festival downtown. A large crowd of happy people already packed the streets buying food at the booths and watching street entertainers. My family and I arrived around 5:30 eager to participate in the general festivities. Soon, I began to sense something. Waiting in line for a pizza, I overheard a couple discussing directions to Fairfield School. Someone else mentioned the impending meteor shower. Then a child asked when they would go to Fairfield school that evening. Soon everywhere I turned, I overheard people planning to attend the Astronomy Club's meteor shower party at Fairfield school. Preparing for what I believed would be an unprecedented avalanche of meteor watchers, I hastily lit out for the school. Arriving at 6:00 p.m., two hours before the scheduled meeting, I was the seventh car in the small parking lot.

By 8:00 cars had filled the parking lot and extended for half a mile or more down all the roads leading to the school. The large grassy playing field became a solid patchwork of blankets. The sky was gorgeous and we saw many meteors, but the true miracle, for me, occurred the next morning when I returned to the school with trash bags in hand, expecting the playing fields to resemble something like the day after Woodstock. Instead, there was not a bit of trash. I later was told by the current mayor of Davis that the traffic congestion prevented her attendance that evening. It was the first time I ever knew that someone of such prominence was aware of our club. We had "arrived."

Our Most Prominent Speaker.
Kim Stanley Robinson and RED MARS. The Club's October 1993 meeting drew an equal number of amateur astronomers and science fiction fans (and lets face it, the distinction is often blurred!) to a wonderful evening conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red Mars. The author, a Davis resident, discussed what motivated him to write a novel on Martian colonization and what wonders and problems colonists are likely to face on the red planet. He also talked about his research for the book and mentioned that the sequel to Red Mars, called Green Mars, would be published in the spring. Blue Mars, the final book in the trilogy appeared in 1996. Red Mars won the Nebula Award, and Green Mars won the Hugo Award for Best Novel. The club is very grateful to Mr. Robinson for sharing his time and talent with us.

Most Encouraging Presentation.
One purpose of the Club is to recognize and encourage scientific work by the younger generation. Helping others to observe, communicate, reason, organize, and relate information about the sun, moon, planets and stars brings many rewards for Club volunteers. At our March 1996 meeting we were given a presentation by club member Ben Granett on his long-term telescopic observations of sunspots. Granett, a student at Holmes Jr. High, is one of the few members who followed a consistent observing schedule with his telescope. His regular, daily observations recalled the traditional hallmark of the amateur solar astronomer.

Most gracious gifts.
The club has received many generous gifts, ranging from telescopes to German clock-drive mechanisms. Among our many benefactors, in 1993 Colonel and Mrs. Richard Graham of south Davis donated several items, including an 18.5 inch diameter mirror in memory of their son, R. David Graham, who was an amateur astronomer. We received over $400 to build a telescope for the mirror. Tim Feldman donated many hours of time and talent on this project, and this year, the scope (see a photo of Tim with the scope) began service to the public. This telescope is a beautiful testament to philanthropy and volunteerism in the service of science.

Our Electronic Bulletin.
The Club's greatest audience is on the internet, thanks to the wizardry of Anne Hance. At the Explorit site on the internet, our club's homepage receives hundreds of "hits," many of them due to the spectacular pictures of Comet Hale Bopp provided by member Bob Thompson. We have received queries on the internet about our meetings from as far away as the South Pole!

What does this club offer?
If you have always been fascinated by the heavens or theexploration of outer space but haven't known how to start your own astronomical journey--this is the club for you. We have shown many aspiring stargazers their "first" constellation, their "first" double star, where the planets are and how to use a telescope. We can help you decide on the best binoculars, telescopes, computer programs and star atlases, and help you decide what you need and (more importantly don't need) to enjoy and discover the cosmos. This club can be your "training wheels" so you can finally begin exploring the universe at your own speed and in your own directions. In short, this club aims to be a "launch pad" for your personal exploration of astronomy.

In retrospect.
Over the last 10 years, the Astronomy Club has not only benefited its membership, but the larger goals of EXPLORIT as well. If we can believe the box-office records held by space-orientedfilms, probably no science so stirs the public's imagination as much as astronomy. Working with school teachers and youth groups such as the Scouts and Campfire, the club has introduced hundreds, perhaps thousands, to the cosmos. Among these rewards are: finding new friends, learning the theories, facts and processes of science, and discovering new perspectives on ourselves and the cosmos. Our future is full of promise.

The Astronomy Club is hosted by Dennis Smith with the assistance of Tim Feldman and other eager astronomy buffs. The club is for everyone - adults, children, knowledgeable or ignorant. Come to listen, look and learn, or to share your expertise or experience.

Send feedback to
Explorit Science Center
P.O. Box 1288, Davis, CA 95617, USA
Phone: (530)756-0191     Fax: (530)756-1227