The Longmont Astronomical Society (LAS) provides a place for local amateur astronomers to come together and share their passion for the night sky.
Vern Raben has been president of LAS for 10 years. He says that, like many, his curiosity about the stars formed in childhood. In rural Northwest Nebraska in a time with limited electricity, the sky was a large presence. By high school, he had saved up enough money for the parts needed to build his first telescope. With that telescope and a field guide to find the constellations and planets, he was set to explore the heavens.
Raben was such an avid observer that one night while watching the opposition of Mars, he discovered that his pants had become frozen to the snow-covered ground at two in the morning in below freezing temperatures. He still agrees it was worth it to catch the Mars opposition!
A lot has changed for amateur astronomers since then. For one thing, the internet provides a vast trove of information, as well as many of the social needs of amateur astronomers. Another major change has been the result of advances in astrophotography, which allow one to observe the sky in the comfort of their own backyard and get great pictures with the help of longer exposure times.
These two changes in technology have reduced the role of clubs like LAS. However, LAS believes that the need for first-hand experiences is still there for many in our community, especially the young.
This is where star parties shine. These astronomy-centered events provide an opportunity to learn from those with more experience and to share the excitement of learning about our world with others, professional and amateur alike. The Longmont Astronomical Society schedules several of these events each year. Some involve driving long distances and camping out while others are evening events close to town.
In addition to star parties and monthly meetings, LAS also has telescopes for members to borrow and has donated telescopes to libraries in the area, including the Longmont Public Library.
In years past, the club has worked closely with city and county governments to establish a designated dark site facility for regular meetings, as well as plans to build an observatory at Sandstone Ranch. These projects are still overcoming hurdles but will hopefully come to fruition in the coming years.
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