When I first became interested in astronomy, it was something that I owned. It was my hobby and mine alone. I would try to share it with my family, but often to no avail. They just didn’t get the same thrill out of seeing the moons of Jupiter through my binoculars as I did. And it became all too frustrating to me when I would – sometimes literally – be jumping for joy at some celestial event while they politely smiled and then went inside.
For years I kept any joy I gleaned from my hobby to myself. I had thought about joining an astronomical club, but I was far too shy (which is funny since I am extremely outgoing); I just figured everyone would know more about astronomy than I did and I was afraid of looking stupid. It didn’t matter that I’d loved astronomy since I was eight years old…I just figured I had to be some kind of astronomy academic.
How wrong I was.
A few years ago, through a chance meeting with someone at a local observatory that was in danger of closing, I did finally join an astronomical association. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) is well known for its astronomy history, turning out some incredible astronomers such as comet-hunter David Levy.
Though I initially found it somewhat intimidating, due to my own insecurities, I have since come to cherish the club. It is something that I think everyone should do.
Why? Because, first of all, you find like-minded people. As part of an astronomical club, you find people who, not only share a love of the night sky and its workings, but you also those who want to learn more about it. Don’t know what a variable star is? Don’t know what a pulsar is? Someone in the group will, and not only that, but I can bet you dollar to donuts (pardon my Canadian) that he or she will be more than happy to share their knowledge about it.
There’s also the telescopes. A lot of people can’t afford a telescope. So don’t be afraid to join if you don’t have one. You might have a pair of binoculars, or not. But don’t think that you can’t join a club just because you don’t own some fancy bit of telescopic wonder: your eyes are all it takes to admire the stars. When you join a club, you can ask to look through someone else’s telescope. There isn’t an amateur astronomer out there who doesn’t enjoy sharing the view. And this will help you learn more about telescopes, should you want to invest in one later on.
Another advantage is that most clubs offer perks. Take the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Toronto Centre: our club offers telescope rental; a subscription to the astronomy magazine SkyNews, and our journal; a club-run observatory in a dark-sky location with access to a house and a 14” telescope; monthly talks, observing sessions; club talks and observing sessions at that very observatory that was in danger of closing, and much more. This is a great way to meet people and learn.
But the other thing you can get from a club is the ability to pass on that love of astronomy to others who are interested in it. So, not only do I gain all these perks from my club, but I also volunteer and teach others about our universe.
I have met some incredible people over the past few years of being a member and learned so much. I started off with a Celestron 6se and two eyepieces. I now have a Celestron 8se on a CGEM mount, an AT72ED, a Lunt solar telescope, a suitcase of astronomy gear, and I am learning astrophotography. I have given public talks which has also increased my self-confidence. But most importantly, I have made some incredible friends who will be with me forever.
One might argue that joining the club has cost me a lot dollar-wise, but what I’ve gained? You can’t put a price on that.