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A Love of the Stars with Tulare Astronomical Association

Mar 03, 2018 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

March 2018
By Jordan Venema

AT SOME POINT, every child looks up at the night sky to wish upon a star and, with a mixture of fear, awe, and mystery, wonders what they are. Sadly, most children grow up and stop connecting the dots in constellations, but not Marvin “Butch” Demmers.

“When I was a kid, I went out in the evenings, and I had a boyhood friend who had a telescope,” he says. “From there I started learning constellations on my own in the backyard and started hounding my mom and dad for my own telescope. They got me one, and once I wore that one out, I got another one.”

Demmers’ awe for the night sky has not dimmed into adulthood, and now the retiree is an active member and president of the Tulare Astronomical Association, a club for amateur astronomers and professional wonderers alike. But Demmers clarifies: All are welcome.

Astronomy begins with and can remain as simple as stargazing, but according to Demmers, it is one of the most diverse sciences, including navigation, physics, mathematics and even history.

“Astronomy can be one of the most mathematically challenging sciences, and is probably also the oldest,” says Demmers. In a sense, it could also be called a philosophy. “Ancient man used to lie out there when the fire died out and would look at the stars and wonder what they were and how far away they were.”

“It goes as deep as you have the desire to follow it,” Demmers says about the science. “But the sheer beauty is enough to capture most people.”

That beauty has captured members of the Tulare Astronomical Association since science teachers Arthur Pursell and Stan Manro founded the club in 1967.

Early donations provided the club with land in southwest Tulare and a 10-inch Newtonian Reflector, “which served for many years as the community telescope in Tulare and the surrounding areas,” says Demmers. The club now uses a mounted 12-inch Newtonian Reflector with a computerized guiding system.

“We’re actually one of the few clubs in California that actually owns property and has an observatory,” Demmers adds.

The property and observatory allows the club to host monthly stargazing parties, weather permitting, that are open to the public with a $5 entry fee.

“We have facilities where people can bring their own telescopes, or look through the club members’ telescopes – anybody and everybody who wants to come out,” says Demmers. “You do not have to be a member, but we encourage it because we’re a nonprofit. The only money we generate is through memberships, dues and donations.”

Club membership is $40 for individuals and $60 for families, and includes voting rights and the ability to “participate in our events for free. This spring we’re conducting a class on basic astronomy,” says Demmers. “You could take the class and it won’t cost you anything.”

“But if you’ve never looked in a quality telescope before, and never looked at Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn, or never looked at the moon and its craters, like they’re right in front of you, or never seen a galaxy over two million light-years away – that $5 is nothing for the experience,” Demmers adds.

“There’s nothing like moving your telescope to some faint object in the sky, when you may be the only human being on earth at that moment looking at that object. And the fact that you’re looking at something that the light has taken millions and millions of years to reach us,” trails Demmers. “It’s astounding.” 

It’s an almost personal and intimate experience, placing your eye to the telescope, hearing your own breath. The feeling is that all distance has been removed between you and that object, and in a quiet moment, the universe, in all its immensity, feels breathtakingly small. 

But while that moment between you and the stars can feel intimate, the club itself is a place of camaraderie. The stars may be what initially attract people to the club, but the fellowship keeps them coming. And Demmers agrees.

“A lot of it is just about the camaraderie that you have with other people who enjoy the same things,” he says. “It feeds your interest and keeps you coming back.” •

Tulare Astronomical Association

9242 Avenue 184, Tulare •

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