Turn Your Eyes Toward the Skies

enjoy the wonders of the universe with the whole family

Marie Anthony |

The Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society brings telescopes to Phoenix Park. Allowing young and old alike to gaze skyward. Photo by Bill Childs.
The Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society brings telescopes to Phoenix Park. Allowing young and old alike to gaze skyward. Photo by Bill Childs.

It’s 12:13am. In the space where Luc usually sleeps, I find his empty pillow. Six hours earlier, my husband left with two friends to head for Wyoming in hopes of catching the solar eclipse in its full glory. When it comes to our universe and anything related to the solar system, Luc is very much like a kid in a pool full of peanut butter and chocolate. Nothing – not even me – compares to its awesomeness.

Some people – as they get older – close their hearts and their minds to the wonders of our world. Then, there are people like my husband or Mike Brown, director of the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society, who never lost that sense of wonder. “Astronomy is humbling because it makes a person stop and think about their place in the universe,” Brown says. It’s one of the reasons he fell in love with astronomy in high school and why he enjoys sharing the experience with everyone.

While in Nebraska – also anxiously awaiting the solar eclipse – Mike was kind enough to take time to connect with me about the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society (CVAS) and what they have to offer. Before we dive into programs, here’s a little tidbit of information on the CVAS: CVAS meets at Hobbs Observatory at Beaver Creek Reserve. No, you don’t have to be some sort of Galileo. Whether you are into casual or serious visual observing, astrophotography, or radio astronomy, CVAS welcomes anyone with an interest in astronomy.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I am quite drawn to cities and the buzz of nightlife. I’m likely someone Brown and the CVAS hopes to reach through their events. Many of us forget to stop and steal a quiet moment to look up at the night sky. Maybe, like me, they have never looked through a telescope. “The night sky is an endangered natural wonder,” Mike says.

One of the ways Mike wants to bring back wonder is to bring astronomy to people by having observing sessions in a location that is more accessible and does not involve a drive out to Hobbs. CVAS hosted impromptu observation sessions at Phoenix Park this summer. Mike invites people to follow CVAS on Facebook, so they can find out when these events will happen. Brown says that he hopes to do one more in September.

Beaver Creek Reserve
Beaver Creek Reserve

On Saturday nights, the CVAS hosts family viewing sessions at Beaver Creek Reserve. Mike says that the events are very family friendly, although the discussions are typically geared for those ages 12 and up (age appropriateness is usually noted on the events CVAS posts to Facebook). In addition to astronomical discussions, there are – of course – opportunities to view stars. “With the scopes we can easily see globular clusters, nebulae, galaxies and other deep space objects.” Brown says. “Right now, we also have a great view of the summer Milky Way!”

While the goal of the CVAS is to introduce people to the beauty of our universe, there is something magical about seeing the spark of wonder in a child’s eyes. I think that’s why the Saturday night programs are most memorable. Mike shares one of his favorite moments during an event: “When we are pointing out stars and constellations we use a green laser pointer the makes a nice, visible beam into the sky. It looks like it goes on forever,” he explains. “On one particular night a young girl, maybe 5 years old, exclaimed: ‘Wow! You can touch the stars!’ ”

On that quiet Sunday night, that little girl filled my mind. I couldn’t help but think that one day I might have a daughter just like her. Every time I’d close my eyes, I could see her: her hazel, doe eyes sparkling and her sweet little freckled-face glowing with excitement as she nestled into her daddy’s arms and the three of us looked up at the stars.

Learn more about the Chippewa Valley Astronomical Society and check out its event calendar at cvastro.org.