The lighting in my neighborhood is more than adequate, but it still gets pretty dark when the sun folds behind the horizon. I must admit, seldom do I venture into my front yard after dark. When I do, it’s usually because I forgot to take the trash and recycling containers to the front curb.
During those rare moments, I sometimes take a few minutes to just look up at the sky, or more precisely, the stars. It’s always a moving experience. It’s impossible to observe the heavens without believing we are part of something much greater than ourselves.
When it comes to astronomy, I’m still in kindergarten. Thousands of years ago, very bright people devised a method to navigate using the stars. I can barely find the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. I know there are stars, constellations, moon, sun, planets, nebulas, galaxies and a universe, but don’t ask for a tutorial on any or all of those celestial bodies.
But there are people in our community who are experts at traversing the night sky –– Roy Parish and Ray Bureau, just to drop a couple of names. They call themselves amateur astronomers; I call them professionals who are just too modest to give themselves a formal title. They can toss around scientific terminology much like you and I recite Star Light, Star Bright.
Roy is the president of the Shreveport Observatory. Ray is vice president.
In case you didn’t know, the Shreveport Observatory has been around since the mid-1960s. It’s just down the road a piece in an old cornfield a couple of miles from where Highway 1 connects with Highway 175, south of Shreveport.
They have some pretty cool equipment out there, although I’ll have to take Roy and Ray’s word for it. The observatory has a 14-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassengrain reflecting telescope, as well as a 6-inch refractor telescope. Here’s what that means: you can observe some incredibly beautiful objects with this state-of-the-art equipment.
You can find Roy and Ray just about every week at the observatory. Roy spends his time measuring the position of asteroids, including near-earth asteroids. Ray loves photography, so he concentrates his efforts on long-exposure astro-photography.
The observatory, which has 100 members, holds several public events during the year, which means all of us can get in on the action. The next event is planned for Nov. 18 at 7:30 in the evening (you have to wait for it to get dark, after all). At that event, participants will get to marvel at Mercury, Saturn, star clusters and galaxies.
If taking a peek at planets is your hearts desire, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Venus are your best bets. Jupiter is big and easy to observe; Saturn has those famous rings; and Venus comes into view a couple of times a day. Mars, on the other hand, only graces us with its presence every couple of years.
Roy and Ray have forgotten more about astronomy than all the rest of us know. But they love sharing that knowledge, especially with those new to the field of astronomy. When they talk about their hobby, you immediately see a bright smile and a child-like love of natural science.
“I was reared in Alaska under the clearest skies imaginable,” Ray said. “I combine my love for the sky with my love for photography and computers. I use my camera to see the unseeable. I get to see what no one else can see. It’s always interesting.”
Roy echoed those comments and added: “I’ve been involved with astronomy since 1954. That was the year Mars made a close pass to earth, and I loved the movie, War of the Worlds. I still get excited about looking at the heavens. When you look up there and see how big everything is and how far away everything is, and how precisely how everything has to work together, it’s impossible to believe everything happened by accident.”
So, the next time you take your trash out late at night, take a minute and soak in the stars. If you get really excited, take a trip to the Shreveport Observatory. Either way, one thing is for sure –– all of us are always looking for our true north star.