The Battalion. (College Station, Tex.) 1893-current, November 14, 1986, Image 21

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    Astronomers explore
new frontiers while
attempting to solve
heavenly mysteries
While the tragedy of the
recent shuttle explosion put a
damper on the nation’s rap
idly-growing space explora
tion program, it did not extin
guish the national fascination
with the world beyond.
Man continues to strive for
a better glimpse of the heav
ens, a better understanding
of the macrocosm in which
our microcosm exists.
Dr. Roger Smith, associate
professor of physics, offers
some insight on where the
study of astronomy is
headed. He says that ad
vanced technology will soon
allow astronomers to take a
sharper look into space with
minimal distortion.
“One of the things that’s
going to happen in the next
few years is that the space
telescope will go up, shuttle
permitting,” Smith explains.
“That should be quite inter
esting because that will be the
first telescope of any real con
sequence that’s up outside
the earth’s atmosphere. We
won’t be faced with the dis
tortion caused by the earth’s
atmosphere, or the pollution
caused by city light sources. ”
Another area of devel
opment is the study of radio
astronomy. Smith says astro
nomers are able to take mea
surements of celestial objects
from observatories in differ
ent parts of the world at the
same time. They then can
combine the tapes taken
from the various locations, ef
fectively giving them a radio
“telescope” the size of the
“The advantage of having
a telescope that big is that it
gives you very good resolu
tion,” Smith explains, “so
you can use the radio tele
scope to look at quasars and
objects that are extremely far
away and see what their
structures are like. ”
Ironically, it is through this
futuristic study of space that
man can best explore the
By examining the struc
tures of these distant objects,
Smith says astronomers are
learning more about the ori
gins of the universe because
the light from such distant ob
jects was actually emitted bil
lions of years ago.
OK, so you’re finally con
vinced that the moon is not
made of cheese. And you no
longer believe in the man in the
moon either. Congratulations,
you've grown up and joined the
real world.
Now take a step backwards.
No, don’t start looking for cows
in the sky, but do feel free to let
your imagination roam as you
gaze at the stars. Look for
comets, quasars and constella
tions. Now you’ve joined the
world of amateur astronomy.
It’s a brave new world, but
not a very well-developed one
in this part of the state. Texas
A&M has no astronomy pro
gram to speak of, and offers
only the bare minimum in as
tronomy classes.
However, the university does
operate an observatory (with a
dome and everything), and the
few astronomy classes that are
offered are always filled to ca
In the popular basic astron
omy class, listed as Physics 306,
students study the basic prop
erties of light, the life cycle of
stars, the origin and future of
the universe, and the planets.
And in the lab section of that
course, Physics 307, students
meet at the observatory (lo
cated near Easterwood Airport)
and learn how to set up the ob
servational equipment, how to
use star charts in order to locate
objects in the sky, and how to
find celestial bodies without the
star charts.
But Dr. Roger Smith, asso
ciate professor of physics and
the man responsible for running
the astronomy courses, says
that there isn’t anyone in the
department who is really a gen
uine astronomer. He adds that
there isn’t any astronomical re
search conducted here, either.
Nevertheless, an active
group of telescope-toting indi
viduals in the Bryan/College
Station vicinity sponsors a myr
iad of galaxy-gazing activities
throughout the year.
The Association of Amateur
Astronomers is composed of
about 60 members from all
walks of life. Vice president
Laurie Hazen says anyone in
terested in astronomy can join
the local club.
“We’ve got students, house
wives, business people, teach
ers, older members — from age
12 on up,” Hazen says. “We’ve
just got a little bit of everybo-
Hazen says she is definitely
“the amateur among ama
teurs. ” But she took a liking to
star-gazing, and got involved in
the association.
“I’ve always enjoyed watch
ing the stars — thinking, dream
ing about what’s out there,”
Hazen explains. She says the
club offers budding astro
nomers a low-cost means of ex
ploring the heavens.
The club owns telescopes
which members can take turns
borrowing, and has its own ob
servation site about 30 miles
north of Bryan in Cause. The
association also publishes a
monthly newsletter called Pul
sar that includes information on
current astronomical activities,
as well as other feature articles
and a list of astronomical terms.
Four times a year, the asso
ciation sponsors Community
Star Night at the Southwood
Athletic complex. Members set
up 8-, 10- and 12-inch tele
scopes and then stick around to
point out various celestial points
of interests to anyone in the
community who cares to stop
by and take a peek. Hazen says
turnout for the quarterly event
is usually good, ranging from 35
on a cloudy summer night to
more than 2,000 when Halley’s
comet was in view. Members
also help teach astronomy
classes in the local junior high
In addition to bringing as
tronomy to the Bryan/College
Station community, the Asso
ciation of Amateur Astronomers
also offers many benefits to its
The club features speakers at
its monthly meetings, which are
open to the public. At the next
meeting, on Nov. 21, Paul Tor-
race from the National Aero
nautics and Space Administra
tion will speak on current
planetary studies at NASA.
The association also operates
a library which members have
free access to, and Hazen says it
is in the process of compiling a
video library, as well.
Doug McGregor, a graduate
student in electrical engineering
and association member, tea
ches free classes in astrophoto-
graphy to his fellow amateur as
Hazen says that club mem
bers like to have a good time,
too. She says members discov
ered, much to their amazement,
that local restaurants will deliver
pizza to the A&M observatory.
This fact was confirmed, she
says, after their September
monthly meeting, when club
members had a rather untradi-
tional pizza party on the roof of
the observatory.
If you’re interested in doing
some star-gazing yourself and
would like to join the Associa
tion of Amateur Astronomers,
you can contact Laurie Hazen
at 693-4151.