If you want your jaw to drop, look up.
Amateur astronomer Bill Roemer calls it the "wow factor" folks experience when they get a close look at the heavens during a star party.
His group, the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh is throwing another star party Friday and Saturday at Mingo Creek Park Observatory atop Mansion Hill Road Ext., near Shelter 10 in Mingo Creek County Park in Nottingham.
Both evenings will kick off at 7 p.m. with a sky show in the planetarium, followed by an 8 p.m. presentation on Saturn, titled "If Sherlock Holmes Observed Manmade Satellites." There will be another sky show at 9 p.m., then a movie at 10 p.m. about Saturn called "The Ring World."
Throughout the evening, participants can observe the wonders of the nighttime sky through one of the two telescopes that are housed in the building, a 24-inch Ritchey-Chretien Reflector and a 10-inch D&G Refractor. In addition, association members will have their telescopes set up on the grounds for star-gazers and will be on hand to help guide the journey through the nighttime sky.
"To some extent, it's to educate the public about what we can see and teach them a little science, but really it's a fun event," said Terry Trees, vice president of the group. "It's the kind of thing where you can come out and see the rings of Saturn -- live and in color. People usually get a big kick out of that."
Mr. Trees said the party is open to people of all ages and ranges of interest, from those who occasionally glance up at the nighttime sky to those who study the constellations. Founded on June 9, 1929, by Chester B. Roe and Leo J. Scanlon, the group has promoted astronomy in Western Pennsylvania for more than 75 years. With membership around 350, it is one of the larger astronomy clubs in the nation.
Monthly meetings include announcements of upcoming celestial events, such as meteor showers, comets and rare planetary alignments. Speakers have addressed topics such as meteorite hunting in Antarctica and cosmological modeling using supercomputers.
The association owns and operates the Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory in Frazer and the Mingo Creek Park Observatory.
The Mingo observatory was dedicated in August 2005. Located at an elevation of 1,149 feet, it affords an almost 100 percent view of the sky.
Mr. Roemer, group member and director of the observatory, said most star parties are scheduled around first quarter moons since a fuller moon can get in the way of viewing deep sky objects.
"It's like a big flood light in your eye," he said.
Barring rain or overcast skies, Mr. Roemer said participants this weekend can expect to see Saturn and its rings and other deep sky objects such as open clusters, which typically contain a few hundred loosely arranged stars, and globular star clusters, which are concentrations of approximately 10,000 to 1 million stars.
Other deep sky objects expected to be visable are galaxies and nebula, where new stars are being formed.
"When you look at some of the things we show you, your jaw will drop," Mr. Roemer said. "We call it the 'wow factor.' "
Public star parties are scheduled to take place at Mingo observatory on July 12 and 13, Aug. 9 and 10, Sept. 7 and 28, Oct. 26 and Nov. 9. Check weather conditions before coming.
For more information, visit www.3ap.org.neigh_south - neigh_washington
Shannon Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.