Ask Utah amateur astronomers to name all of the state's star-gazing societies and most will probably come up with just one: the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. Many others may cite the Ogden and Brigham Young University astronomical societies or the groups based at the University of Utah, Logan or Cedar City.
But chances are, few will list one of the more active groups: the Utah Valley Astronomy Association. It may not be as well known as the Salt Lake or Ogden groups, but it does campaign on issues important to astronomers, and its members get out for fascinating, monthly star parties.
Utah Valley Astronomy Association lists about 80 names on its e-mail contact list, said de-facto president Richard Tenney. The Lindon resident, who works in the computer industry, helped found the group about six years ago.
"In the intervening years, the club has grown some," he said. The members are "mostly involved with visual observations."
On Saturday nights near the new moon, when our natural satellite doesn't glare in the sky and wash out dimmer heavenly wonders, the group will hold star parties at the home of charter member Mark Dakins, located in Hobble Creek Canyon.
At the most recent star party on June 3, about 60 people visited Dakins' home. Because it's a house and not a remote parking lot on top of a mountain, astronomical parties are held there even in unpromising weather.
"He opens his home literally to the public, and he's got lots of interesting things for kids to look at." Besides astronomical items, Dakins has collections of rocks and minerals that delight the scientific-minded.
Members of the association are encouraging Orem City to "adopt a more dark-sky-friendly policy," he added.
That city has been working on a street-lighting project, said John Park, assistant city manager. Information about the project is on the Internet at www.orem.org.
Residents are invited to comment on the streetlight proposals, Park said. The city is interested in installing "lights that are dark-sky sensitive," meaning those that don't leak a great deal of light pollution into the heavens.
Light pollution is the great enemy of astronomy. Without the natural darkness, viewers can't see such "everynight" wonders as the Milky Way.
The Orem City Council plans to address the streetlight issue on July 7, Park said. Meanwhile, Utah Valley Astronomy Association members are campaigning for the least light-polluting designs.
"We've lost our ability to walk outside at night and show our kids what the Milky Way is, because it's lost in an unnecessary haze of street lights," Tenney said.
The association also busies itself with projects other than the streetlight campaign and private star parties. The group also holds star parties for the public and church, school and youth groups.
"It's one of those hobbies where you're happy to share your passion with other people," Tenney said.
Recently Dakins and Tenney acquired several thousand astronomy photographic slides from Hansen Planetarium. The Salt Lake planetarium was no longer selling the slides in its gift shop, and the stock was taking up space in the basement.
"Most of them are older black-and-white observatory photos, but . . . are superb images nevertheless," Tenney said.
"Mark and I, with the help of other volunteers, have been working on sorting the many boxes into sets and getting these into the hands of interested public educators, planetarium directors, etc., locally and across the country."
The group is making them available for the shipping cost, about $5.
Those interested in obtaining sets should contact Dakins at firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com. For more information on the group, including information about getting on its mailing list, check its web page at www.uvaa.org.