What We Do
The Vermont Astronomical Society (VAS) is a group of amateur astronomers with varying backgrounds and levels of expertise, but all with a passion for astronomy and related fields. Beginning amateur astronomers or those with only a casual interest are welcome to attend our monthly meetings and public observing events. If you spend your clear nights looking up at the stars and wondering which constellations you are seeing, wish you knew the names of the most brilliant stars, or where to find the planets currently visible, the VAS can help.
The VAS can help you get started with most any aspect in amateur astronomy, be it visual observations, astro-imaging or public outreach and education. We have members who have experience in all these areas who can help you get started or improve your skills in your particular area of interest.
Most amateur astronomers agree that everyone seems to benefit from participation with other experienced amateurs or clubs, or following an organized observing program. Learning how to use your binoculars or telescope efficiently and learning the night sky is easier, quicker and more enjoyable when working with others who enjoy helping you get started in the hobby they love.
The VAS has a Mentoring Program which will match beginners in amateur astronomy with VAS members willing to help them become familiar with the night sky, observing equipment, telescope making, or other particular field of interest, such as advanced astro-imaging.
Visual observing is the easiest way to get started because the cost of the equipment is usually less than other methods, and is the way most amateur astronomers begin. Visual observing can be divided into 2 parts: Binocular or Telescope. The VAS observing certificate series are a great way to learn more about the night sky, and can help to guide you and to grow your observing skills.
Although hand held binoculars can be used to locate some deep sky objects, large size or Giant Binoculars show much more. The most common Giant Binoculars are the 11 X 70 and the 20 X 80. (The first set of numbers is the binocular magnification and the second set of numbers is the size of the front lens or objective in millimeters.) Giant Binoculars give some of the best views of the larger deep sky objects such as open star clusters, star clouds, large dark nebulae, and bright comets. Giant Binoculars can’t be hand held steady enough so they need a sturdy tripod or some other homemade mount. Some of the best Giant Binocular deep sky objects like star clusters can be found in popular lists like the Messier and Caldwell Catalogues, the best large dark nebulae can be found in the Barnard Catalogue. VAS has binocular observing certificates for each of these catalogues. For more information please see the VAS website Certificate Series link.
Telescopes have a much narrower field than most binoculars but offer more light gathering and better resolution. Telescopes are needed to see details on the planets and deep sky objects. A longtime standard amateur telescope has been the 8” (200mm) F/6 Newtonian. The 8” (200mm) is the size of the primary mirror or objective, F/6 gives the distance from the main mirror to the eyepiece [8” x 6 = 48” or 200mm X 6 = 1200mm]. The Newtonian is the optical configuration of the telescope, the overall size is generally portable and well suited for visual observations of the planets and deep sky objects.
Planetary observing is seeing fine details on the Moon and 4 other planets: Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. The other planets in the Solar System are too small and too far away to show details in a typical amateur telescope. Deep sky objects include star clusters, gaseous and planetary nebulae, and various galaxy types. Almost all the finest deep sky objects can be found in the New General Catalogue as well as others in the Messier and Caldwell Catalogues. VAS has telescopic certificates for planetary and deep sky observing. For more information please see the VAS website certificate series link.
Occasionally, the VAS offers Newtonian Telescope making classes, providing all the materials needed to assemble a 6” F/8 reflecting telescope. The type of mounting and outside finishing is left to the owner. [the specific telescope parameters may differ in the future]
For the intermediate amateur who has a few years of experience and some equipment knowledge, VAS has advanced certificates for the experienced planetary and deep sky visual observer. For more information please see the VAS website certificate series link.
The vast majority of books and observing programs seem to cater mainly to the beginner amateur astronomer. A few hardy observers may want to go beyond just making simple observations of different deep sky objects and may want to do something more sophisticated and challenging. Astronomy is one of the 3 sciences to offer research activities and opportunities for amateurs to make significant contributions in the field, the other two sciences are Paleontology and Archeology.
VAS members have contributed in the areas of visual searching for new comets, novae, extragalactic supernovae and electronic searching CCD images for asteroids. Discoveries so far have consisted of 2 new asteroids and one nova. For more information please see VAS website Awards link.
The VAS issues certificates and awards to formally recognize the fine efforts of those completing the requirements for any VAS certificate, and invites all interested amateur astronomers to participate.
VAS does not yet have an astro-imaging program, but experienced members can offer advice on getting started or how to enhance your imaging results.
VAS members of any level are encouraged to join in the Public Education efforts. Beginners can start by supporting the setup and execution of events or educational presentations. As knowledge and experience is gained, involvement can be increased until the person is ready to deliver their own outreach program or education sessions.