Our Town: The Usual: Raleigh Astronomy Club

Travis Long

“The show is on every night and it’s free.” 

–Phyllis Lang, Raleigh Astronomy Club member

It’s always looking up for the Raleigh Astronomy Club. The group evolved from an adult continuing education class in casual observing at Meredith College in 1977; the experience was so stimulating that the students decided to keep meeting. Today, the RAC has over 200 members in the Triangle, who meet twice a month to learn about and observe the stars. There are educators, landscapers, engineers, car repairmen, and even elementary school students. “(People think) you have to be an egghead to belong to the RAC and that is not the truth,” says co-chairman Doug Lively. “If you have a passion for astronomy, the door is open. It really doesn’t matter what your background is.”

Nor does it matter what equipment you have. Most members invest in a good pair of binoculars, Lively says, and a perk of club membership is the telescope loaning program. Members can try out an array of equipment and get tips on the best gear for the skywatching they want to do.

Tips come from the monthly gatherings. Of the club’s two meetings, one is always an outdoor viewing session; the other is a lecture or lesson indoors at N.C. State University Crafts Center. The educational sessions bolster the starry sky scanning. Lively says he loves the transformative moment when a novice goes from “I don’t see nothing,” he says, to “having his socks blown off” the first time he sees Saturn.

RAC members have a galaxy of tips for budding astronomers, which they share through community outreach. Astronomy Day is the club’s main event, held every January at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Through a partnership with NASA’s Langley Research Center and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the day brings astronauts, scientists, and a ton of impressive hardware together for two star-studded days. Last year’s event had more than 14,000 attendees. The RAC also works closely with Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and has a sister club in CHAOS, the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society. –Katherine Poole

raleighastro.org