As spring returns in full bloom, one of CU’s best out-of-this world events reoccurs. Led by David Leake, president of the organization, Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society’s (CUAS) dark-sky observing has been an annual night festivity for about four to five years and begins its take off again this month.
“Looking through a telescope for the first time can be a very exciting experience, but knowing what you are looking for can enhance the experience,” Leake said. “It’s amazing to barely move the eyepiece, and go from galaxy to galaxy.”
Being so far away from the downtown areas makes Middlefork Forest Preserve the ideal place for viewing celestial bodies. Official measurements have also shown that Middlefork is far enough away from the downtown area to avoid most light pollution, making it one of the darkest spots in the CU area at night. CUAS works closely with the Middlefork Forest Preserve to ensure that there are no conflicting events.
“I always look forward to visiting the Middle Fork Forest Preserve because of the good people and the dark skies,” Leake said. “You don’t realize how dark a sky can be until you get away from the city lights. Cities need to be lit, but many of our lights shine up into the sky, and that’s wasted energy. To me, it’s like taking a lawn sprinkler to the end of your driveway and watering the street! No one would do that since it’s a waste of resources, but we do that with our lighting all of the time.”
April is one of the best times to view celestial bodies because according to Leake, it is neither too hot nor too cold. Any later, and mosquitoes could pose as a deterrent for guests, as June has longer days than nights and leaving for less time to view celestial objects. CUAS also pays close attention to the moon phases in order to avoid a full moon. Too much light can make it more difficult to view celestial objects.
“Spring is ripe for galaxies,” Leake said. “For something a ‘little closer’ we will also have Jupiter, Mars and later Saturn in the sky. Mars was closest to our earth about a week ago and, of course, anything close looks large, so I’m anxious to check out Mars, too!”
CUAS will be leading the group at 8 p.m. in the activity center north of the campground for a presentation on what to look for when trying to find celestial objects in the night sky. After the presentation, the group will walk over to the campground, but camping is not required. Every member of CUAS is willing to help aspiring astronomers observe the celestial bodies that will be visible April 26.