Hervey Bay amateur astronomers capture a silver coin while watching the night skies.
Hervey Bay amateur astronomers capture a silver coin while watching the night skies.

Skys the limit for stargazers

WHETHER it is camping under a sky blanketed with stars, trying to make out constellations from the wide open countryside or spying for shooting stars with mum and dad; there is no doubt astronomy fascinates many of us.

And you do not have to be an expert on science and nature to appreciate the sparkling lights.

But if you are interested in learning about the Milky Way, Southern Cross and plenty more, then chatting to the chaps from Hervey Bay Astronomical Society may be the way to go.

Ray Johnston has been an amateur astronomer for as long as he can remember and joined fellow local Steve Massey to create the society, based in Hervey Bay.

The group formed casually just over a year ago but to apply for funding grants and participate in community events it needed to be incorporated. That step was taken and the society became official in January.

The society holds meetings at USQ on Old Maryborough Road, Pialba, on the last Friday of every month.

So far there are 19 members from diverse backgrounds, some with basic knowledge and others veterans. Those, including Mr Johnston and Mr Massey, who have extensive experience have between them operated Australia’s largest telescope, discovered distant galaxies on digital images produced by one of the world’s biggest telescopes and lectured to world audiences.

Mr Johnston and his wife, Libby, operated an astronomical observatory on Hamilton Island for 18 years, introducing the skies to up to 50,000 island guests.

Accredited with Education Qld, Mr Johnston has also made astronomy part of the classroom experience by using a blow-up planetarium that seats 24 people and shows space-related films.

This year, the now Dundowran Beach resident is on stand-by to give lectures to tourists travelling on Cunard cruise liners, which he has done for the past two years.

If that does not make him expert enough, in 2008 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“That was a great honour,” he said. “I was absolutely blown away.”

Mr Johnston remembers first learning about the sky as a toddler: “I grew up with astronomy. When I was about two, three or four years old I remember laying out on the lawn with my mother and making patterns out of the sky.”

His interest grew during the “moon race” of the ’50s and a course at Melbourne’s Swinburne University.

Mr Massey, on the other hand, used to work at Australia’s largest telescope, the Anglo-Australian Telescope, at Siding Spring in NSW. He has also written seven astronomy books with an eighth on the way.

Now, however, he primarily pursues astronomy for pleasure.

“One of our main aims is to involve children and younger people in what is a fascinating pastime and to introduce them to the magnificence of the heavens,” Mr Massey, the society’s president, said.

“We hope to become actively involved in promoting astronomy to schools and assisting to set up student astronomy groups. As well as meetings, we will be conducting public viewing nights and programs on radio and TV.”

The society will next meet at USQ at 7pm Friday, February 26.

To find out more visit www.hbastro.org. You can also call Mr Johnston on 4128 7986 or Mr Massey on 4194 5509.

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