New astronomy club aims to help more people see the stars and beyond

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Members of the Mercer Astronomy Student Association gather around a telescope on Cruz Plaza during their weekly club meeting on Sept. 12. Photo by Jaycie Calvert

The Mercer Astronomy Student Association is on a mission to grow the field of astronomy through outreach events.

Junior Bryson Malta, a double-major in biology and philosophy, wanted to start an astronomy club since his first year at Mercer. Now, the club is a reality and is helping create a community focused on outreach events to bring more people together through hands-on experience with astronomy.

“Bryson feels really strongly about astronomy as an outreach tool and bringing it to people, and I really admire that and appreciate that. I think having outreach in the bones of the club, as its core mission, is really valuable,” Dr. Frank McNally, the club’s faculty adviser and an assistant physics professor, said. “These students seeing themselves as educators, to some degree, I think will really help them grow to appreciate and learn even more about astronomy.”

Bryson Malta, president of the Mercer Astronomy Student Association, works on setting up a telescope for the club to view Polaris and Saturn on Sept. 12. Photo by Jaycie Calvert

Malta’s interest in astronomy started in a high school class. He later bought his own telescope and taught himself how to use it.

“What I find most interesting about astronomy, or at least more specifically, amateur astronomy, is just, well, the feeling of it,” Malta said. “That feeling of bliss.”

Right now, the club is still gaining momentum, as it continues to grow in members and interest. Recently, the club had its election for officers.

“Mostly right now (the club meetings are) about the basics of how to set up astronomical equipment and some of the terms that we use,” Malta said.

The meetings emphasize hands-on applications such as constructing the equipment to learn how to use it.

As the club continues to grow, perhaps the astronomy program at Mercer will grow, too.

“From my experience in teaching astronomy, it feels like there are a lot of students at Mercer who are really interested in the stars. And so, MASA feels like a great way to help show that to the administration,” Dr. McNally said, noting how astronomy is now being taught twice a year instead of just once.

Part of that growth includes plans for land Mercer owns out in Crawford County, with hopes to turn it into an astronomy observatory. The project, Dr. McNally said, was spearheaded by Dr. Matthew Marone, another physics professor at Mercer.

The land, which is away from Mercer’s campus, is farther from light pollution.

“It is basically an elevated plateau. And so you still have light from Atlanta, you still have light from Macon, but it is significantly darker than here,” Dr. McNally said, noting how celestial bodies people don’t often get to see, such as the Milky Way, can be observed.

The astronomy courses at Mercer utilize the land for observations, and Dr. McNally hopes to take the club there soon.

The Mercer Astronomy Student Association has some outreach events coming up, the first of which is a viewing of the Jupiter opposition from 8:30-11 p.m. Sept. 26 on Cruz Plaza. The Jupiter opposition is when Jupiter and Earth are on the same side of the sun during their elliptical orbits, said Dr. McNally.

“When you look at Jupiter through the telescopes that we have, you’ll be able to see stripes on the planet, (and) you’ll be able to see the four Galilean moons,” Dr. McNally said.

The club also has plans for a Halloween event and a viewing of a total lunar eclipse.

For students interested in joining the Mercer Astronomy Student Association, meetings are from 8-10 p.m. on Mondays in the Science and Engineering Building, Room 143.

 

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