Astronomy Days – How Far We’ve Come

This article originally appeared in the second quarter 1985 STAR Newsletter and described RAC's Astronomy Days in 1985.  This was done at Crabtree Valley Mall, unlike today's venue at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.  This shows how far we have come in the last 20 years and how, even though some things are the same, a lot has changed.  However, it's still interesting to occasionally look back.

Enthusiasm turned Astronomy "day" into "days" which were celebrated April 27th & 28th. Beginning in 1981, the Raleigh Astronomy Club joined the national effort calling attention to the importance and pleasure of astronomy. This year proved to be our best effort. Planning began months ago; final arrangements defined by the Co-chairmen were arranged at the regularly scheduled meeting on the 26th of May. The club was willing to fill as much space in the mall as Crabtree was willing to assign, our intention being the utilization of every inch of space for scientific exhibits for the purpose of stimulating interest in astronomy. Bob Thornburg's artistic posters were the main source of publicity. The news media disappointed us with their efforts but all went well. However, next year we must try to be more persuasive.  On Saturday, as 7 am dawned, the men in charge of the BIG telescope met at Jerry Watson's garage where RAC-24 was mounted on its new second-hand trailer and was readied for the trip. To the uninitiated, that may sound simple but to Jerry, Fred Gurney, Mike Searle, Dave Moore, Carl Moreschi, Allen Mitchell, John Larimer, Bob Thornburg, and others, it is a mixed bag of love and duty. Only those who have watched can appreciate the expertise of the men who manage RAC-24.  Once inside the mall, decisions had to be made to exhibit everything to its best advantage. Jerry Watson's eye-catching posters proclaiming astronomy as a hobby were placed on easels at both ends of our area. These directed the flow of traffic and invited the interested to examine the display. A splendid array of telescopes, assembled in the center, included Mike Searle's 17 1/2 inch, Allen Mitchell's new homemade 6-inch, Ron Faircloth's Celestron 8, Mark Richardson's homemade 6-inch, Jerry Watson's 12 1/2 inch Meade, a replica of Galileo's telescope made by Robert Morris, plus Rene Ward's two tiny ones: the Astroscan and the 60mm Tasco "Starfinder". All attracted a steady stream of visitors, most of whom were only too glad to talk about telescopes with the owners. Mark Lang, Fred Gurney, and Jerry Watson supplied the information about RAC-24 as each visitor climbed the ladder to view a picture of Saturn hung at the far end of the mall. Wow!  The Gurney's and Rene provided most of the books that were arranged on three long tables. Confined to astronomy and related subjects, there were books of star charts, books on space exploration, books on astrophysics, astrophotography --- books for beginner and books for the advanced.  Ben Davis, age 8, made a fine poster of the solar system which was displayed on an easel; also on an easel was Don Morris's framed photo of the May annular eclipse. Several NASA charts were spread on tables and surprisingly, seemed easier to read than when mounted upright on pegboards. Jerry Watson's collection of photos showing the construction of RAC-24 was fixed on a sheet of colorful poster paper with descriptions of progress from start to finish. Mark Richardson used a lot of film photographing the activities and exhibits.  Two talkative members (Mark Gibson and Rene Ward) manned the "Information" table while Bill Brandberg and Ron Faircloth volunteered relief at mealtimes. Fred Gurney furnished a generous supply of handouts with information about the club, scheduled meetings, plus directions to Meredith. The supply of club brochures was exhausted the first day but other handouts were given by Morehead Planetarium and there were enough star charts, material on comets, etc. so that every visitor could have a token reminder. Genuine interest in astronomy was quite evident - an amazing number of people said they owned telescopes; all were invited to attend club meetings. Mark Lang answered questions about photography while Mike Searle was kept busy showing his beautiful box containing eyepieces, charts and other necessities. Not only were people happy to talk astronomy but the majority were surprised to learn that Raleigh has an astronomy club. Now they know. Feeling victorious (although a bit weary by Sunday night) the troops faced the task of dismantling the exhibit; carrying out, putting away, and cleaning up. Members who helped full-time or part-time were: Jerry Watson, Mike Searle, Mark Lang, Fred Gurney, Rene Ward, Bob Thornburg, Allen Mitchell, David Gurney, Skip Mesick, Dave Moore, Mark Gibson, Dave Doty, Bill Brandberg, Robert Morris, John Larimer, Ron Faircloth, Don Morris, Al Rose, and Carl Moreschi. (Our apologies to anyone whose name has been omitted.)  National Astronomy Day was a huge success as far as the Raleigh Astronomy Club was concerned. Perhaps more of our members will participate next year and will discover that this worthwhile project can be fun.

Written by Rene Ward