Reach for the Stars: Local astronomy club has open house at South Hills College


The logo of State College’s local astronomy club, the Central Pennsylvania Observers (CPO). “It’s one of the nicest groups of people I’ve met in my whole life. There are no bad people,” Joseph Dougherty said.

Hannah Hart, Staff Writer

Just as residents of State College began to watch the steady fall of snowflakes, members of a local astronomy club helped others watch the stars. On December 5, South Hills School of Business and Technology hosted the Central Pennsylvania Observer’s (CPO) astronomy club for their instructive open house on the ins and outs of astronomy.

The CPO was founded in February of 1997 and their primary focus is “observing the wonders of the night sky.” To achieve this goal they conduct night watches and instructional presentations on astronomy throughout the year to introduce beginners to the science and educate avid observers.

Their most recent open house covered the basics of stargazing. The first and essentially only step is orientation. For example, if newcomers can locate the Big Dipper, the tip will point to Polaris (better known as the North Star). The North Star’s position makes it the best jumping-off point for people with limited astronomy experience to explore constellations and other phenomena.

The simplicity of astronomy and a desire to learn are what draw people like Joseph Dougherty to the CPO. “I bought myself a telescope and joined this club, and I’m a newcomer, I’m an amateur but I’m having fun,” Dougherty, who was prompted to learn more about astronomy when his grandson asked him where the lines between the constellations were, said. “It’s one of the nicest groups of people I’ve met in my whole life. There are no bad people.”

This concept of simplicity extends to the basic tools and principles of astronomy. From photography to telescope building, the CPO appeals to all aspects of the science, and makes them easily understandable. “I had found an Edmund Scientific catalogue, read about telescopes in their catalogue, ordered a lense, and then found that all you have to do to make a telescope is put the lense a certain distance from the eyepiece, and then hold them there while you look. And that’s all there is to it, nothing more,” Tom Kasner, whose interest in astronomy was ignited before 1959, said.

Tom Kasner poses with his telescope. He built it by hand from binder clips and bed poles and based it on a design he drew on a napkin. “Seeing things and helping people understand,” is what Kasner enjoys most about the CPO.

Regardless of whether participants find staring into space calming or if they have a deep desire to learn about the final frontier, age does not limit the ability to enjoy astronomy. The CPO is open to members of all ages because they understand that curiosity is a trait shared by all. “There were thousands of stars and I looked up and thought ‘I wish I knew one from the other,’” Wayne Osgood, who has been a member of the CPO for seven years, said. “Gradually I started to learn a little bit about it and came to these meetings, which was a big help when getting started.” 

Matthew Bardo, an Earth Science teacher at State High summarized how astronomy can be enjoyed by anyone. “For the workaholic: Stargazing can be therapeutic. In the hectic world, we all live in, taking the time to peer into the cosmos is just plain relaxing,” Bardo said. “For the curious: There is much to see in space, and you won’t see it all in one evening. For the science academic: Astronomy is challenging. It takes interdisciplinary knowledge in the areas of Geology, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. For everyone else: We are made of the same elements that are created in stars. A little bit of astronomy can go a long way in understanding how we got here.”

As the transition to winter becomes more and more evident, so does the fact that winter weather will discourage the average person going outside as often or even at all. With cabin fever on the horizon, a new solution is needed to bring people together to enjoy the outdoors, and it is not building a snowman. For those who wish to become a part of a welcoming community and participate in an intriguing year-round activity, the Central Pennsylvania Observer’s astronomy club can provide the guidance and resources needed to expertly observe and explore the night sky. Throughout the year CPO hosts open houses and sky watches to promote astronomy and introduce new people to the wonders of space, so keep up with their events by visiting their website here.

“In conclusion, anyone can enjoy astronomy,” Bardo said. “In fact, to do so, all you really need to do is walk out your door and look up.  No special equipment or tools are needed, and with the recent improvements made in technology, anyone with a phone or computer can utilize star gazing apps.”