BELTON — The February sunset painted a wash of red and orange over Belton Lake on Saturday evening, setting a brilliant scene for the Central Texas Astrological Society’s star party at Overlook Park.
The monthly event is dedicated to sharing knowledge about the universe with members and nonmembers.
“It’s a living sky above us and it has a unique way of speaking to us,” said Aubrey Brickhouse, the organization’s president.
Brickhouse directed the group of about 14 people to look up and take in everything as he used a hand-held laser to show constellations. Several members set up 8-inch telescopes that resembled mini cannons, and some people brought their own smaller telescopes and binoculars.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allows the astrological society to use Overlook Park, weather permitting, so people can view the night sky away from harsh city lights.
The highlight of the evening was viewing Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. The planet’s rings and four of its moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — were bright and clearly visible through a telescope Saturday.
Alexandra Labrada, a novice stargazer, squinted into an eyepiece as others eagerly awaited their turns. A student at Central Texas College, she attended the party for the first time as a class assignment.
“It’s really fascinating learning all about the galaxy. I had no idea physics and math were used so much in astronomy,” Labrada said.
Brickhouse handed out a star map, referring to it as “a road map to the galaxy.” He explained how to use the map to identify and locate stars and planets easier.
With 20 years in Central Texas, the astrological society is an active community of expert and beginner astronomers. Three other star parties took place Saturday in Waco, Hubbard and at the club’s Meyer Observatory at the Turner Research Station near Clifton. Each month, an open house is hosted at the observatory to discuss astronomy topics and demonstrate the 24-inch research telescope.
Longtime member Forrest Marler, a math teacher at Temple College, used his own telescope and shared his interest and equipment with others.
“I’ve loved astronomy since childhood, and sometimes I talk about the planets in my class to make math more interesting to students. I may even get a few to join the club,” Marler said.
Currently, the society has more than 125 members throughout the region.
“We’re making a cosmic connection and it’s a great opportunity to look at God’s creation of the universe,” said Doug Peters, star party coordinator and computer programmer. “It’s a humbling, even spiritual, experience because you realize you’re just a tiny speck in this huge mass.”
For more information, go to centexastronomy.org.