Tulare Astronomical Association Opens Renovated Observatory

The Tulare Astronomical Association Observatory
The Tulare Astronomical Association Observatory

The Tulare Astronomical Association has renovated its observatory in Tulare and will have its first event, an open house and star party, to officially relaunch the facility on October 12. The observatory has been closed for the last ten years, and the club has spent the last ten months working hard to reopen it.

The event will reintroduce the observatory to the public and feature the group’s remodeled meeting room and new 12.5” Newtonian telescope. People will be shown the constellations and get a chance to look through the new telescope.

The new telescope will enable viewers to see features on the moon as small as a half-mile in diameter, according to Greg Eckes, TAA president. “We will easily be able to see Jupiter’s four Galleon moons and more detail on the planets surface bands. When we look at Saturn, we will be able to see at least five of its moons and more detail in the rings like Cassini’s Division. Nebula like the Orion Nebula, Dumbbell Nebula or the Ring Nebula, the Lagoon nebula, the Swan nebula and many others too numerous to mention will be brighter.”

The observatory’s “dome” rotates to any direction to view the night sky. On the dome is a motorized opening or door, which opens to look through.

Tulare County is perfect for general observing and astronomy education, according to Eckes. “We have a great horizon, meaning that we have very little obstruction from buildings or trees,” he explained. “The temperatures are consistent, meaning we don’t have huge drops or changes in temperatures from day to night. Light pollution is not bad. We can still see the Milky Way from our location.” Adding a more personal reason, he noted, “Our location is close enough to home that we don’t have to drive hours to do observing.”

The first Tulare Astronomical Club was started in 1935 by a Tulare teacher (and later principal) Arthur Pursell. The club disbanded the following year, but was revived in 1957, by Pursell and Stan Manro, who were inspired by the launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik and the start of the space race. The club met at Tulare Union High School in Pursell’s science classroom.

In 1966, the club had a 10” telescope donated to them, but it needed a home because it was too big to be carried around. The club incorporated as a 501(C)(3) non-profit charity in 1967 so that it could raise money to build an observatory for the telescope.

“There was a lot of excitement back then about it,” Eckes said. “Arthur Pursell had a friend, Bob Heitzeg, that donated the land. Bill Thompson, of the the Tulare Lions Club, got the club to donate the dome for the telescope. Many other people donated the concrete work, block work, septic tank for the restroom, etc. It took the club about ten months to get the observatory built. It opened in October of 1967.”

Time took a toll on the original observatory, however.

“After 46 years of deferred maintenance it was time to fix the place up,” Eckes said. “The club officers decided to put some of our club money into fixing up what we could. The club has put a lot of sweat into fixing up the place. We are not done yet. We really need to raise about $15,000 to finish the job. The roof needs to be replaced by professionals. We stopped the leaking but now we have to get it fixed.”

The TAA observatory is not the only one in the county. The Tule Astronomical Association, based in Springville, has private observatories owned by individual members, even though the club itself does not have its own observatory.

There is a growing interest in astronomy among many others in the county, attracting people with diverse daily lives.

TAA President Greg Eckes with the group’s new 12.5” Newtonian telescope
TAA President Greg Eckes with the group’s new 12.5” Newtonian telescope

“Our club is for anyone that wants to learn about the night sky,” said Eckes. “Our club members are mix of people from every kind of background. They range from professionals in various fields to labors. None of us are scientists. We are all people that love the night sky and want to know more about it. Our club covers visual observing, binocular observing, telescopic observing and astro-photography. We present a little program at each meeting where we discuss topics like the moon and tides, what is a star, what is the life of a star, how do we measure the distance of a star. The topics are endless. We also cover astronomy in the news like the comet that is coming in November and NASA news. The group welcomes students of high school or college age. Students younger than that need to attend meetings with one or both parents, and be under the family membership.

“I became a member because I was tired of observing by myself,” explained Eckes. “I wanted someone to collaborate with and to share the experience with. I found that if you are not an active member of a club, you miss out on a lot of opportunity to observe. You end up watching TV and don’t go out side to look at the stars. Before becoming a member I could count on one hand how many timed I observed by myself. The club lets you share and learn with others. Groups are always more fun.”

But Eckes occasionally enjoys astronomy without the company of a group.

“As an amateur astronomer, I love the beauty and peacefulness of the night sky,” he said. “I want to know what is up there, where I can find it and to be able to see galaxies, nebula, star clusters with my own eyes.”

The newly renovated observatory is located at located at 9242 Road 184, Tulare. The open house and star party will be held there on Saturday, October 12 from 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and children 12 and older; $2 for children under 12.

In addition to the open house, the TAA will offer a six-week “Visual Astronomy Class,” the first time that the group has offered a class to the public. It starts October 8 and is limited to the first 20 people who sign up. For more information, visit www.tulareastro.org. Visitors can register for free to find out about meetings and events, and when the observatory is open to the public.

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