GATESVILLE — The stars at night are big and bright when seen from the Meyer Observatory in Coryell County deep in the heart of Texas.
Except when it is cloudy, as it was Saturday, and visitors to the observatory at the Turner Research Station gazed at star images captured by astro-photographers of the Central Texas Astronomical Society.
Spectacular as the colliding galaxies and supernovas in the photos may be, they are nothing like the real thing. About 25 visitors, ranging from preschoolers to retirees, turned out for the monthly open house under a sky hidden by a cloud layer.
“On a cloudy night, the turnout is always down,” said Aubrey Brickhouse, president of the society that owns and operates the observatory. “We will get 50 to 60 on a good night in the summer, and we have had as many as 75.”
The Central Texas Astronomical Society resulted from the merger of “two backyard astrology clubs” in Waco and Temple in the 1990s, Brickhouse said.
The group has since grown to about 100 members ranging from Hillsboro to Killeen, Gatesville to Cameron.
In 2000, Charles and Dorothy Turner of Waco gave the society five acres of land on Farm-to-Market 182 at the northern tip of Coryell County between Turnersville and Clifton.
With a donation from Paul and Jane Meyer of Waco, the society built a hilltop observatory. In 2004, the dome was equipped with a research-quality Ritchey-Chretien reflective telescope with a 24-inch-diameter primary mirror.
The telescope is valued at $250,000 and the dome at $85,000, Brickhouse said.
In 2005, the society opened the Paul and Jane Meyer Observatory at the Turner Research Station.
Next to the observatory dome is a field where society members and their guests can set up smaller telescopes and camp overnight.
In 2010, a building with restrooms and showers was added to replace the portable toilet.
Built for research
While the observatory hosts star parties and study projects for church groups, Boy Scouts and area school children, “the observatory is built for research,” said Dean Chandler, past president of the society.
A core group of about 20 society members often pull all-nighters at the observatory doing research as part of the Whole Earth Telescope Project of the University of Delaware.
The society also helped the Region 12 Educational Service Center train science teachers to use the telescope at the observatory.
The Meyer Observatory also assisted the McDonald Observatory with research projects, Brickhouse said.
Researchers also can use the observatory remotely. Brickhouse said a graduate student at the University of Texas is using the telescope from the comfort of his dormitory.
“We are completely automated and can operate from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection,” said society member Dan Doyle of China Spring.
Seven members of the society, including Brickhouse, are avid astro-photographers who often access the telescope remotely to capture galactic imagery.
For more information about the Meyer Observatory and the Central Texas Astronomical Society, go to centexastronomy.org.