Ames amateur astronomers will party with the stars

Matt Kuhns

Movie-goers who saw the earth imperiled in “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” can learn more about meteors and other celestial objects this Saturday when the Ames Area Amateur Astronomers (AAAA) holds its monthly stargazing party.

The free event, titled “When the Sky Falls,” will be held at the Story County Conservation Center in McFarland Park located north of Ames, and it will begin at 8 p.m.

Dave Oesper, AAAA educational outreach chairman, said the night will start off with a presentation about celestial objects and their impact on the earth.

If skies are clear, there will be a stargazing session following the presentation. Oesper said telescopes will be available, but visitors are encouraged to bring their own binoculars.

Joe Prusa, professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State, is hosting the event.

Prusa said he will be discussing some of the 20th century’s largest terrestrial impacts, as well as “near misses” that have occurred in the past five to 10 years.

The presentation will include slides, some of which were recorded by defense satellites and only recently declassified, Prusa said.

He said he also will be showing video simulations of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9’s spectacular impact on Jupiter in 1994.

The timing of the presentation so soon after “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact” is an interesting coincidence, but Prusa said it was completely unintentional, since the event was planned before either movie was announced.

Prusa said he will “try to provide a little more information on [celestial collision] fact vs. fiction.”

Oesper said AAAA has been organizing public programs at McFarland Park for several years. He said stargazing parties will usually include pointing out constellations and other objects of interest in the sky.

Along with organizing presentations, the group also is constructing a new observatory at McFarland Park, which Oesper said will be open to club members and used in public programs.

Oesper said AAAA also has a “dark sky preservation” section which works “to preserve and reclaim the night sky for everyone.” Oesper said the group’s goal is to gradually replace inefficient outdoor lighting with lights that only shine downward.

AAAA is open to all ages and levels of interest in astronomy, Oesper said. The group’s membership is currently about 80, but he said they would “love to have more ISU students participating.”

Oesper said people interested in getting involved with AAAA can attend the regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays at the Conservation Center, or call him at 232-8705 for more information.