The universe your oyster

Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula by Russell Cockman

Have you ever wondered what that bright star is called, twinkling majestically in the early evening sky? Do you want to recognise the shapes of the constellations? Ever wondered which of the stars you’re looking at might be a planet? Have you wanted to look through a telescope? No, not like the ones you see on the balconies of houses along Beach Road – I mean a really huge and serious astronomical telescope?!

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above, then you may be interested in the Astronomical Society of Victoria, Inc (ASV). Anybody with a fascination for astronomy is welcome to join, and for a small fee, you get access to the whole Universe!

Should your interest not stretch that far, you may like to just attend some of the events that the ASV puts on for the public and schools. These are often advertised on the Society’s website (asv.org.au) or on its Facebook page and occasionally may be held at Wattle Park.

The history of the ASV stretches back to 1922. Since that time many prominent members have made worthwhile contributions to the science of astronomy, as well as disseminating knowledge of the science to the general public. It’s the largest such organisation in the southern hemisphere and boasts well over 1000 Australian and overseas members.

Comet McNaught by Phil Hart
Comet McNaught by Phil Hart

Don’t feel overawed by this, as most members are ordinary people with a thirst for knowledge. In fact the range of expertise is very wide: from novices trying to identify a bright star or constellation, to highly experienced observers routinely tracking down very faint and distant galaxies or taking world class photographs of spectacular deep sky objects.

The ASV has many sections that meet members’ special interests. It also offers a telescope loan service, where members may borrow 8-inch Dobsonian telescopes for a period of three months, to help them get started.

The ASV holds its meetings on second Wednesdays monthly at the National Herbarium on Birdwood Avenue, near Melbourne Observatory. They start at 8pm, are open to the public and cost nothing to enter. They feature a guest speaker and a wide range of topics are covered during the year. Concluding with a light supper, these meetings provide an excellent opportunity to meet other members and ask questions. The library is also open before and after the meetings.

Members can also attend less formal Friday night meetings at the ASV Lodge and Observatory in Burwood. These are a friendly introduction to the Society and may answer more questions over a cup of tea or coffee and lots of astronomical chit chat. An enormous 20-inch telescope at the rear of the lodge is used on those evenings provided the sky is clear.

Galaxy – Andromeda (M31) by Mark Justice
Galaxy – Andromeda (M31) by Mark Justice

The Society has close ties with Melbourne Observatory in the Botanical Gardens opposite The Shrine, keeping some of its telescopes there and offering members, and the public, an opportunity to look through them on a regular basis. There is a charge for non-members.

The ASV also owns a country property of some forty acres in central Victoria where you’ll find skies dark enough to rival any location on earth. The Milky Way can be so bright there that it casts a shadow! Two events open to public are held there in March and December, but members can go and stay onsite for as long as they like, drinking in the universe until they’ve had enough!

Some of the best observing anywhere in Australia takes place there through a gigantic 25-inch telescope, however there’s an even larger 40-inch telescope being delivered early next year. Furthermore, for the membership’s benefit, work on a new observatory and accommodation block commences shortly.

All in all, anyone with an interest in astronomy should become familiar with the Astronomical Society of Victoria. The joining fee is $20 (juniors exempt) and a full membership is $75 pa. Concessional members are $55.

For further information: membership@asv.org.au or phone Keith Black on 0410 442 619.