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The Lake News Online
  • Joseph P. Strogen Observatory becomes area's first stargazing facility

  • The association will unveil the new observatory to the public at a dedication and open house Saturday, Aug. 30. Visitors are welcome to tour the facility, enjoy a potluck dinner and view celestial bodies both during the day and into the evening.
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  • *Editor's Note: The observatory is not staffed on a regular basis. To visit the observatory after the open house, contact the Camden County Astronomy Association, 346-5954.
    When Ginny Strogen first gazed into the night sky during an astronomy class in 1989, she thought she’d see an indiscriminate dot through the telescope lens. Instead, she recalls seeing the bands of the gas giant Jupiter, Earth’s planetary neighbor separated by Mars. She remembers getting a detailed look at Jupiter’s moons and seeing the shadow they cast on the planet’s surface.
    And from that moment looking through a telescope at an observatory in Los Angeles, her eyes were opened to a whole new world — well, beyond really.
    The members of the Camden County Astronomy Association hope the opening of the Joseph P. Strogen Observatory in the Montreal will have the same effect on others who find themselves looking into the night sky toward the heavens.
    The association will unveil the new observatory to the public at a dedication and open house Saturday, Aug. 30. Visitors are welcome to tour the facility, enjoy a potluck dinner and view celestial bodies both during the day and into the evening.
    Located off a gravel road in an ordinary field, the association found a piece of property perfectly positioned for observing.
    “We looked for an appropriate piece of land for four months,” Jim Strogen, son of the observatory’s namesake, said. Prior to the current location, members had to set up telescopes in parking lots or at the state park to view the night sky as a group.
    But those locations proved not ideal. The new location avoids what Jim calls the “light domes” of Osage Beach, Camdenton and Lebanon. In fact, the nearest security light shines half a mile away from the observatory, which is positioned below the crest of a hill to avoid even that small “light pollution.” Jim said even something as seemingly minuscule as the angle street lights hit the pavement in a city can cast enormous amounts of light into the sky.
    “Dim objects are difficult to see with light pollution,” Jim said.
    As a result of its prime position, stargazers can see everything from planets in our solar system to the Milky Way, nebulas and other galaxies, according to club member Tim White.
    White remembers the days of Sputnik and Telstar, some of the first man-made objects thrust into space at the height of the Cold War. Along with neighbors, he remembers craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the orbital objects. He bought a small telescope at a yard sale. But it was the purchase of a larger, more sophisticated telescope as a college graduation gift to himself that solidified his interest in space.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It was a whole new world,” White recalled.
    The Strogens, along with White, hope the new observatory will kindle a fascination in what’s beyond Earth. They also help to dispel some myths about stargazing.
    For example, all three agreed that not many know just how detailed a picture one can get of the universe with the right telescope, even in the daytime.
    “The sun is very dynamic,” Jim said. “We can watch things like eruptions in real time.”
    Mostly thought of as a nighttime activity, Jim said specialized equipment can make daytime viewing just as interesting. Viewing the sun — the closest star to Earth — can show flares and surface activity.
    But even as dusk sets in and the sky grows dark, most people don’t know that some of the greatest viewing occurs close to Earth.
    “Most people don’t think to look at the moon, but it’s amazing,” Jim said.
    “Quarter moons are the best,” White added.
    With pristine viewing conditions, the ridges, mountains and valleys of the moon are in full view.
    Along with showing off some of the great unexplained wonders of outer space, the club hopes to give people a greater understanding of what lies beyond what’s in their house, just outside or down the block. Several of the club’s members are retired science teachers and the Strogens are former president and vice president of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society.
    “We hope to do a lot of public outreach,” White said. He envisions visits by scout groups, school classes and church groups.
    “We really want to make it available to anyone with an interest,” Ginny said.
    Jim encourages even those with no knowledge or experience whatsoever to take a turn gazing at the stars.
    “We can teach people from every experience level,” he said.
    Born and raised in light-saturated Los Angeles, Ginny for years thought the Milky Way was only visible in the Midwest. Now that she lives here full-time, she can see the Milky Way from her deck.
    So in the dark of night, all three hope a love of space lights up the life of someone looking through the lens of a telescope for the first time.
    The observatory, which has a retractable roof for a 20 inch telescope, is located 15 miles from Camdenton in the Montreal area. Take Highway 7 toward Richland and make a left on Route E. After a mile, turn left on Jeffries Road. The observatory is about a mile down on the left. Look for the signs and the orange cones at the end of the driveway. The open house begins at 3 p.m.

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