This summer, immerse yourself in the impassive impressiveness that is the universe … from your own backyard or by visiting a local observatory. Barring cloudy nights, the sky is always open and available to everyone for stargazing. To boost understanding of your backyard view, take advantage of the astronomical opportunities Columbia and mid-Missouri have to offer.
Founded in 1949 by a group of professors from the University of Missouri, Central Methodist University in Fayette and Missouri Valley College in Marshall, the Central Missouri Astronomical Association aims to promote astronomy — and science in general — with the public, says Val Germann, who taught astronomy at Columbia College for almost 20 years and is now the treasurer of CMAA. “Our aim is to show the beauty of the night sky and how the science of astronomy increases our appreciation of what we can see, with both the naked eye and a telescope. Astronomy is the one natural science that offers the public the same ‘laboratory’ as the professionals: the sky itself.”
“While our telescopes may not be as large as the professionals,’ ” Germann says, “we view the same sky. Over time, many beautiful and amazing sights are available to everyone and we want to have as many people as possible see them.”
The association operates three observatories across mid-Missouri: Laws Observatory at the University of Missouri, Morrison Observatory at Central Methodist in Fayette and the association’s own Wildhaven Observatory, located north of Columbia.
Laws Observatory, atop the University of Missouri’s Astronomy and Physics Building, is home to a 16-foot Celestron Schmidt-Cassagrain telescope plus an 11-inch noncomputerized telescope and 6-inch computerized telescope. Laws Observatory is open every clear Wednesday night in June from 8 to 10 p.m., and most Wednesday nights during the year — which ends up being about 40 times a year, Germann says. On Saturday June 15, Laws will be open from 8 to 10 p.m.
CMAA helps to open Morrison Observatory in Fayette 12 times a year. At Morrison, visitors can enjoy a 17-foot Alvin Clark reflector telescope that was made in the late 1800s. Morrison, located at 700 Park Road, next to Fayette City Park, offers an Old World stargazing experience.
Wildhaven Observatory is located between Columbia and Hallsville off of O’Rear Road, and features a 12-foot Merz and Mahler telescope made in 1847. It is open to the public several times a year, depending on which astronomical events are taking place. When a particularly interesting astronomical event is at hand, such as the recent Comet, PanSTARRS, or this summer’s Perseids meteor shower, CMAA holds special viewing sessions, Germann says.
CMAA members operate the observatories, and are also available during public hours to guide guests through their visits, answering any questions that may come up. And there are a lot of surprises for stargazers to see. The clarity and detail with which you can see the moon and planets through the available telescopes amazes people, Germann says. When the International Space Station flies overhead, you can see it with the naked eye, but more clearly with the aid of a telescope.
For more information about the Central Missouri Astronomical Association, and the three observatories, please visit www.CMAAastro.com.
Looking for a more immersive space exploration experience? Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association is the largest student run space simulation program in the nation — and it’s housed right here in Columbia at Hickman High School. This summer, CASA has two fun events scheduled to engage youth space explorers. Student members of CASA will run two days of the 2013 Cub Scout Day Camp in Stephens Lake Park, on June 6 and 7. This year’s camp theme is Cub Scout Space Adventure. Then, from July 8 to July 12, fifth and eighth graders are invited to CASA’s Summer Space Camp. Campers will learn about some of the systems CASA uses to conduct simulations, such as energy power, thermal control or life support. Campers will also enjoy fun activities such as making and shooting off bottle rockets, building and flying hot air balloons, etc. Up, up and away!
For more information, please visit www.columbia.k12.mo.us/hhs/casa/