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Fun in the sun and under the stars

Posted: September 6, 2008 9:07 p.m.
Updated: November 8, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Steve Petzold, president of the Local Group Astronomy Club, gazes at the sun through a specially-outfitted telescope, Saturday at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area in Agua Dulce.

Taking turns, Amanda Brown and her kids, 6-year-old Sean and 8-year-old TaylorAnne, adjusted Jim Mahon's sunscope and peeked inside the two small eye openings.

With the jagged scenery of Vasquez Rocks surrounding them, the family from Agua Dulce looked at something resembling a big red ball with what appeared to be hairs coming out of it.

As Mahon narrated what they were looking at 90 million miles away, Brown and her children were amazed by their personal look at the sun. One said it looked like a big red ball with trees on it.

TaylorAnne had a different idea.

"It looks like a bunny rabbit with a huge head," she said.

The daytime examination of the sky was part of the Local Group Astronomy Club of the SCV's quarterly "Star Party" held Saturday at the Agua Dulce natural area.

The evening gathering brought about a dozen local star gazers the opportunity to witness the wonders of the world beyond the Earth.

The Brown family was joined by Mahon, past president and coordinator of the star party, Steve Petzold, president of the group, and Paul Keen, vice president, among others.

As he set up his high-power telescope, Keen, a 4-year member of the club, said he is drawn to astronomy because of his interest in photography.

"It's a challenge," he said.

Over its 25-year history, the club has brought in people of all ages, careers and lifestyles to focus on the sky.

"The common goal of the club is to share the hobby of astronomy with each other," Petzold said.

The club, which has around 50 members, hosts their quarterly star parties at Los Angeles County parks, as well as frequent community events.

They travel to Mt. Pinos, located near Fraizer Park, considered by the group leaders to be a prime spot for watching the night sky.

The club shares its immense knowledge of the night sky with local children through frequent community outreach programs at libraries and elementary schools.

Club members would also like to see "dark sky-friendly" light fixtures installed in the growing Santa Clarita Valley as a way to stop the light pollution that prevents star gazers from catching appearances by Venus and constellations.

Petzold said the club has not been as active in pursuing that goal as they'd like, but hopes to revitalize the effort soon.

Petzold said the "erosion of the night sky" becomes visible whenever a power outage strikes Santa Clarita Valley and shuts off every lamp, light post and traffic signal.

Their community efforts made way for the recent announcement that group was named co-winner of the International Astronomy Day competition for their work in setting up an astronomy demonstration at Valencia Library.

"They recognized that for not a lot of money, a club can put on a meaningful presentation which gets good acceptance by the people who come," Petzold said.

At Saturday's Star Party, the group of friends was getting equipment ready to watch Venus, Mars and Mercury make a triangle in the night sky.

Saturn and a mix of constellations were also on the program.

But as much as Mahon wanted to predict what would be visible, some things are out of his control.

"What nature gives you every night is a surprise," Mahon said.


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