Hewitt and Wright

No telescope required, no experience necessary.

All that’s needed is an interest in astronomy, and you’re invited to the first meeting of the brand-new Grand Strand Amateur Astronomy Club.

That’ll be Thursday, Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m. in the community meeting room at the Carolina Forest Library. If that seems early, not to worry.

Facilitators are already looking for a location where the group can meet later, possibly around 7.

Those facilitators are Ocean Bay Middle School science teacher Denise Wright and Coastal Carolina University astronomy teacher Ian Hewitt.

Goals for the group, which is open to anyone with even a passing interest in astronomy, include bringing in guest speakers, going out as a club to observe the night sky, and educating the public about astronomy.

“We’re fostering a love for the night sky in our local community, and bringing people together who have a common interest,” Wright says, adding that the beach is a perfect location for viewing the night sky.

“We need to get away from the light pollution because that impacts the view,” she says, explaining that light pollution is simply the light from the city.

“The lights can wash out the sky and you can’t see as far. The darker the sky,” she says, “the better you can see the objects in the night sky.”

The middle school teacher is a Solar System Ambassador volunteer for NASA, and she helped pilot the first distance-learning telescope in South Carolina to be used in classrooms, with the state museum.

She also attended Adult Astronomy Camp at the University of Arizona, and attended the launches of the Parker Solar Probe in August 2018 and the SpaceX CRS18 at Kennedy Space Center in July 2019.

Hewitt has a master’s degree in astronomy, is a former member of the Astronomy Club in Raleigh, North Carolina, and also volunteers for NASA as a Solar System Ambassador.

A Dobsonian telescope will be donated to the group by the Midlands Astronomy Club in Columbia, and some members will also have a telescope. So, all people need to bring to the meeting is their interest.

Wright is excited about the club keeping up with some of the new initiatives NASA is involved in, such as sending an Exploration Rover to Mars, and sending people to the moon.

They are, Wright says, considering sending the first woman to the moon in 2024.

Because of that kind of progress, Wright thinks the interest in astronomy will greatly increase in the next few years.

Hewitt says the club will be a place “where anyone interested in astronomy, no matter what their background or knowledge, can go to learn with like-minded people.

“Of all the sciences, astronomy interests people the most. It interests the general public.”

A professional astronomer, Hewitt says he finds amateur science relaxing, and has particularly enjoyed looking at the Andromeda Galaxy.

“It’s a twit of our own that’s a long way away, about 250 billion light years that we can see with a modest-size telescope.

“You’re looking at hundreds of billions of stars, and just maybe someone is looking back at you.”

“Astronomy,” Wright adds, “is about something bigger than ourselves.”

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