Riverside Astronomical Society—Outreach, star parties, dark sky site, and you!

Riverside Astronomical Society

About Our Club

The Riverside Astronomical Society has a history of civic and educational support since its beginnings in 1957. The RAS owes its start to people who saw the need to promote a better awareness of astronomy to the general public. In addition, they saw a need for a common forum for amateur astronomers to further develop and advance their hobby.

In its early days, the club met regularly at Victoria Savings and Loan. Early members supported local schools, the Girl Scouts, and a regular schedule of star parties, which was initiated for the general public. Around 1964, the club's size and activities accelerated under the leadership of a well-known amateur astronomer, the late Clifford Holmes. By the late 1960's, the membership had grown to about 100. At this time, the club was holding larger star parties at Gavalin Hills. Here they treated the public to telescopic views of such events as the Apollo docking with the Lunar Lander. At this time, the club sponsored the construction of an observatory (equipped with an 8-inch Newtonian telescope and a TV video system) for the Alvord School District.

The late 1960's brought the RAS's most significant contribution to the world of amateur astronomy—the Riverside Telescope Makers Conference (RTMC). 1969 was the first year of the RTMC at the local Riverside Community College (RCC). Since that time, Cliff Holmes and the members of the RAS had developed it into one of the largest and best known international conferences in amateur astronomy. The RTMC is now a separately incorporated entity that meets in the pristine Big Bear mountains of Southern California each year on Memorial Day weekend. There, amateurs from the United States and many foreign countries meet to share in techniques of observing, education, and telescope making. Currently, the RTMC experiences an annual attendance of roughly 1,000 to 1,800 people.

The Riverside Astronomical Society continues to heavily support the efforts of the RTMC but has not limited itself to only those activities. Since the early 1970's, the RAS has conducted workshops in telescope making and basic astronomy for the students of Riverside Community College and the University of California at Riverside. Many of its new members are students from the local colleges. The Club has conducted tours for its members to such places as Mt. Palomar, JPL, and several local observatories. The RAS has also furthered academic research by working with the US Naval Observatory in conducting Grazing Occultation observations. When processed, these observations contributed to measurement of continental drift and aided in refining the distance to the moon.

Since 1974, the RAS has heightened public awareness of astronomy by supporting National Astronomy Day. Each year at a local mall, the club has conducted an interactive display of telescopes, which are pointed at the sun during the day, and the Moon and planets in the evening.

Many unusual astronomical events have taken place during the existence of the RAS, and the society has always made itself available to interpret them. In 1974, the RAS organized two weeks of observing sessions at the Palm Springs Tramway for Comet Kohoutek. For two days in 1976, the RAS treated over 300 people to the early morning wonders of Comet West. When Halley's Comet arrived in 1986, the RAS conducted two weeks of observing sessions, enabling the public to see the comet at its best. More recently, in July 1994, the RAS showed 500 people impacts caused by the collision of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter. For 1996, the club brought the spectacular views of Comet Hyakutake to hundreds of people from a location in the high desert. Comet Hale-Bopp was shown to large groups of people who traveled out to Joshua Tree National Park in the spring of 1997 to view this object away from city lights.

In August of 2000, five acres of desert property in Landers, California, were generously donated to the organization for astronomical use. This was a momentous breakthrough for the club. In addition, the club acquired, through the generous financial support of its membership, an additional 5 acres of property in Landers. The property includes a small residence and garage which serves as a clubhouse for our permanent dark sky observing site, which has been named GMARS. This site has been developed into a full-fledged observing location far from the city lights. There is a public telescope field and camping area, a number of member observatories and telescope pads, and a public observatory housing our 22-inch Dobsonian telescope. Many club members have generously donated their time and money towards the development and improvement of the site.

In any given year, RAS outreach volunteers provide personalized star parties for schools in the Inland Empire area. Through its outreach programs, the club has continued to develop relations with local schools, and will also hold star parties for scout groups, church groups, or any event that your group is planning. In the past, the RAS has also been involved with La Sierra University, helping them restore an observatory, and occasionally providing support for their monthly star parties.

In the last several years, monthly Moon and planet observing sessions have been held in town in cooperation with Barnes and Noble at Tyler Galleria and Borders Books at Riverside Plaza. In the past, the RAS participated in events such as the Orange Blossom Festival, the Riverside Air Show, Flabob Airport Open House, Chinese Moon Festival, Hidden Valley Regional Park, Corona Library, Space Day, and the Louis Rubidoux Nature Center. At some of these venues, solar telescopes were set up for the entire day to view the sun's disk and sunspots (with special filters, of course). Other events scheduled in the evening draw crowds for viewing the Moon and planets. In addition, the RAS partnered with La Sierra University, providing us with a comfortable and modern arena for our monthly meetings.

The Society has worked hard to successfully educate and enlighten the local community, and provide a growing and nurturing environment to those who want more than just a casual look into the cosmos. Many a child enjoyed their first glimpse of the universe through the eyepiece of a telescope that was lovingly fashioned by one of the members of the Riverside Astronomical Society.