Since most people cannot travel to the stars, Sirius Lookers Sedona Astronomy Club members bring the stars and planets closer through their telescopes. The group started in July 1994 with meetings at West Sedona School, but founder and President Dennis Young said the seeds began a few years earlier.
“Russ Nidey and I connected and started the first astronomy club meetings in Cottonwood. We had close to 25 to 30 people. That was 1986,” Young said. Nidey died in April 2008. He was a professor at Yavapai College in Clarkdale for many years. He also was a physicist and the systems manager for the Space Division at Kitt Peak National Observatory.
Nidey was a great resource for the Sirius Lookers, said Young, who helped found many astronomy groups especially within the Verde Valley and Sedona.
Young recently returned from the Riverside Telescope Makers convention held the second week of May. He went to see the newest items astronomers could get, especially for the club. Not everyone who comes to club meetings or events needs to have their own telescope. Many members have several they set up for people to look through.
The Sirius Lookers meet once a month on the third Wednesday at the Sedona Public Library, and have several events throughout the year. They usually go to the Two Trees Area near the city’s wastewater treatment plant between Sedona and Cottonwood off Forest Road 525 for an observing session.
“It’s a great area and relatively free of lights,” Young said. “We also had a lot of fun events at Red Rock State Park.”
Sirius Lookers encourages people of all ages to join the club or enjoy the events. The curiosity of looking up is the only fee, Young said.
“Our purpose is public awareness of science in the public’s eye,” he said. “We’re here to have fun, promote science and to look at the night sky.”
The next meeting at the library will be Wednesday, June 16, at 7 p.m. The next event will be observing the Perseids meteor shower on Thursday and Friday, Aug. 12 and 13, at the Two Trees.
One of the group’s biggest events is coming up Saturday, June 5, at the Grand Canyon. Each year several members of the Sedona club, along with those in the Verde Valley and Flagstaff, join a club from Tucson at Yavapai Point for the Grand Canyon Star Party. They set up about 60 telescopes and allow anyone who comes to view the stars and planets.
“It’s always on the new moon in June, which is June 5 this year. We’ll be there one week,” Young said.
People from around the world come to this event, he said. Sometimes as many as 1,000 people come by on a single night.
“It’s not just looking at the stars, it’s learning about them and events that happen celestially,” Young said. “For example, when the Shoemaker-Levy comet hit Jupiter [from] July 16 to July 22, 1994, it was the most observed [celestial] event in history. Even the smallest telescope could see impact stars.”
People are fascinated with the stars and space, wondering what is out there — and wanting to see far-away objects more clearly, Young said.
Astronomy offers people a chance to see something they cannot with the naked eye, something they’ve only seen on television.
“You can’t experience something you’ve only seen on television. Once you go out and look with your own eyes, see it through a telescope, you can’t replace it. Like shooting stars, no matter how often you see one you still gasp,” Young said.
Many people gasped often when the comet
Hale-Bopp passed by Earth in 1997. It was visible to the naked eye on the low horizon in the evening and overhead in the very early morning.
The Sirius Lookers also travel around the state to large telescope sites such as Mount Graham near Safford, where there is a large binocular telescope, which Young said is the largest one in the world.
“It’s 8.4 meters. With the two of them working together the light grasp is about 12 meters,” Young said.
Another favorite spot is Kitt Peak near Tucson, which has several telescopes for both nighttime and daytime observing. Arizona has more telescopes than any other state and each is unique with some type of specialty, Young said.
“They look for sky condition, steadiness of the air, pollution, accessibility and clear skies. Arizona is good in all of those areas,” he said. “I’ve actually been able to see Jupiter, Mercury and Mars — during the day because I know the location. The conditions are that good.”
Young and other members of the group are looking forward to the newest large telescope coming to Arizona near Happy Jack, about 18 miles east of Lake Montezuma. The Discovery Channel has constructed a building there and will soon install a telescope mirror approximately 14 feet in diameter that is 10 inches thick and weighs about 6,700 pounds.
“I was giving a talk a few years ago about astronomy in Arizona and the organizers told me there was a man in the audience who was inspired by my talk. It turned out to be the president of the Discovery Channel,” Young said with an excited voice.