Richmond Astronomical Society


Citizen Science

Oct 21st, 2016 | By | Category: Blog, Events

If you have read more than a few of our updates, you will have had the pleasure of seeing some beautiful images captured and processed by Madhup Rathi.  In addition to taking pretty pictures, he also submits asteroid tracking data to the Minor Planet Center & University Of Arizona scientists, as they are interested in tracking movement of certain asteroids to better understand their orbit – so that they can figure out if some large asteroid is going to wipe out humans!



Artist’s conception of asteroids passing Earth – image courtesy of NASA


Madhup periodically takes three images 30 minutes apart of the same area of sky and calculates the location of the asteroid for each of the image timestamps using specialized software and sends this data to the project manager.  If anyone is interested in participating in data collection for this purpose, please see Madhup at a monthly RAS meeting or contact  You can also find other opportunities to do citizen science at these links:





Stargazing Expedition to Cape Hatteras – John Raymond

Sep 30th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog, Events

Telescope deployment at Cape Hatteras

I visited Cape Hatteras last weekend for the purpose of stargazing. I went ten years ago and had one excellent night under dark skies. This year did not go so well.


Last time I stayed at Frisco Woods Campground, right on the northern shore of the island. The trees blocked the lights from the town. Very dark skies with good view to the NE and NW. My site was the most northwestern, right on the water, The adjoining land is undeveloped. The car blocked the other camper’s lights.


This weekend I first tried the ramp at the very southeast of the island. On Google maps this looked like the best spot, farthest from town and with a clear view to the southeast. The paved road ends with a small parking lot right at the beach. It was the perfect site – in the daytime. It would have been perfect. Except for the lighthouse. The bright beam sweeps over the site like car headlights, ruining any chance of dark adaptation.


I packed up and tried the airstrip road a few miles west in Frisco. Also away from town, but too many mosquitoes. The constant breeze at the beach isn’t strong here, and there were pools of standing water. The lights from town were too close.


Next stop was the first beach access point west of Frisco. This wasn’t a bad site. It’s a parking lot with bathrooms. Check. A wood ramp leads to the beach. Check. At the top of the ramp is a convenient deck with a good southern view. Check. The dunes east and west block the lights from the town somewhat. Check.
I set up and enjoyed ten minutes of nice views until the clouds rolled in. 🙁


On the way back home I saw a nice site just south of Rodanthe at mp 46. A beach access lot surrounded by tall scrub. The bend in the road keeps car headlights pointed away. Might be worth checking out next time.


John Raymond


RAS member Randy Tatum receives Walter H. Haas Observing Award

Sep 18th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog

RAS member Randy Tatum receives national recognition as a recipient of the Walter H. Haas Observer Award from the Astronomical League!

At ALCON 2016, this years annual convention of the Astronomical League, RAS member Randy Tatum was honored by the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers with the Walter H. Haas Observer Award for excellence in solar system astronomy. Randy has been making solar system observations since 1966. In the 1970’s he began contributing observations, data and ultimately images to the Association. In 1976 alone, Randy performed one thousand transit timings of features on Jupiter and is credited as a co-discoverer of the 1975 South Equatorial Belt disturbance. The images and video below shows Randy receiving the award at ALCON 2016.


Randy Tatum - Walter Haas Award



Belmead Update

Aug 26th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog, Events

Stars over Belmead 27Aug2016 (Bill Dickinson)

The Milky Way over Belmead Mansion (image by Bill Dickinson)


As many of you know, The Richmond Astronomical Society has developed a partnership over the past few years with Belmead in Powhatan which is a beautiful, historic and convenient dark sky location. We have held joint observing and outreach education events at Belmead near the mansion and at more light-shielded sites on the property. Unfortunately, the owners of the property have decided to sell the entire 2,200 acre tract. Recently a new non-profit organization, called Belmead on the James, Inc. was formed to preserve the property. A press release was issued on August 22 announcing formation of the organization.


Formation of this new organization is excellent news for the preservation of Belmead, but much work remains to be done.  Substantial effort will be required by those of us that care about preserving the character and history of the property as well as its dark skies for astronomical observing. Text of the press release follows along with a link to a recent story about the new non-profit organization



POWHATAN, VIRGINIA August 22, 2016 – Belmead on the James, Inc. is a newly formed nonprofit organization incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Corporation exists “as an organization whose goals are to preserve intact as much of the 2,265 acres of land currently owned by Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and located in Powhatan, Virginia … as reasonably possible, to preserve the property for the benefit of present and future generations of Virginians and Americans, and to preserve the cultural, historical, spiritual, ecological, and educational legacy associated with the property as received from Saint Katharine Drexel.”


St. Katharine Drexel, a remarkable visionary who spent much of the Drexel fortune to bring racial harmony amongst all people, founded St. Francis de Sales High School (for African-American and-Native American young ladies). St. Katharine’s sister, Louise Drexel Morrell and Louise’s husband Colonel Edward Morrell, founded St. Emma Military Academy (for African American and Native American young men). During their operation from 1895 to 1972, in beautiful facilities overlooking the James River in Powhatan, the schools provided excellent educationsfor nearly 15,000 students. Saint Katharine Drexel, founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. She is the second American born saint and the third American canonized by the Catholic Church.

On May 3, 2016, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament announced their plans to sell the Virginia property. Since the May 3 announcement, there has been an outpouring of support including a petition signed by over 2,500 people calling for the preservation of the land. Belmead on the James, Inc. will soon begin to raise funds to keep as much as possible of the property intact. Building on St. Katharine Drexel’s vision, Belmead on the James, Inc. is dedicated to providing stewardship over the natural and cultural resources and striving to promote racial justice and racial harmony in the 21st Century.

During the Belmead on the James, Inc. organizational meeting on July 16, 2016, Demetrius Venable, a professor at Howard University was elected president of the Board of Directors; Joe Elton, retired Virginia State Parks Director, was elected vice president; Geri Venable, retired child welfare advocate, was elected treasurer; and Patricia C. Gunn, an Associate Professor Emerita of Law at Ohio University and an alumna of St. Francis de Sales High School, was elected secretary. Other Directors include Catherine Redfearn, principal in Partners for Place; Ryan J. Heathcock, founder and owner of Once Upon A Time; and Rodney M. Jackson, founder and former president and CEO of The National Center for Black Philanthropy.

For more information about Belmead on the James, Inc., contact Demetrius Venable by email at or Joe Elton at

4599 CosbyRoad |Powhatan, VA 23139||

Dust off your blink comparators – there may be a Planet Nine!

Jan 24th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog, Events

When Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, he painstakingly photographed portions of the sky using a 13-inch telescope at Lowell Observatory and compared images from successive nights, looking for objects that showed movement between images.  Objects that moved over the course of a night would be within in our solar system.

13-inch Pluto Discovery Telescope (“Clyde Tombaugh,”

Mr. Tombaugh used a device called a blink comparator which allows the operator to view two photographic images, rapidly switching between the two.  The human eye-brain combination is exceptionally good at seeing changes in the images.  Objects that showed movement could be noted for further investigation.  Any moving body that appeared where no object was known to exist would be a candidate for an undiscovered asteroids or planet.


2016 Star Parties

Jan 14th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog

Lots of star party opportunities in the mid-Atlantic region.  Below are the ones for which we have information.  If you would like another event to be listed, please send a note to


Staunton River Star Party, March 9-13, Staunton River State Park: Registration is now open for the spring installment of the Staunton River Star Party!  More information at  For those that have not attended this party it is distinguished by being held at the newest International Dark Sky Park in the eastern US.  Staunton River State Park has been incredibly supportive of the party and dark sky preservation in the area.  Plus they are just real plain nice to us!  If you can make it to this star party, it’s worth your time and a great experience to observe the sky with other astronomy enthusiasts in a beautiful setting under a dark sky.

Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF), April 9-10, Suffern, NY, Rockland Community CollegePremier astronomy and space expo.  Information at

East Coast Star Party, Coinjock, NC, May 6-8:  Fun and casual observing in a dark sky, coastal environment with the friendliest astronomers anywhere.  Contact Kent Blackwell for information at

Delmarva Stargaze XXII, May 5-8, Trap Pond State Park, near Laurel, Delaware:  Hosted by the Delmarva Stargazers.  Information at

Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies, date to be announced:  This year to be hosted at Roanoke College.  Information to be posted as it becomes available.

Cherry Springs Star Party, June 2- 5, Cherry Springs State Park, near Coudersport, PA:  Hosted by the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg, PA.  More information at:

Green Bank Star Quest, July 6-9, Green Bank, WV:  The Green Bank Star Quest is a star party where there is a lot to do and see even if cloudy weather limits observing.  The event is held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory facility in Green Bank, WV.  More information at and on their Facebook page.

York County Star Party (YCSP), July 27-31, York County State Park, York County, PA:  This star party is replacing the Mason Dixon Star Party (MDSP). Same site, same volunteers, same chairperson. More information at  Our own John Raymond will be presenting at the party.  This is the first year of the new star party and they could use support from the astro-community to get it going.

ALCon, August 10-13, Washington, DC:  This year’s national convention of the Astronomical League will be held in Washington, DC, hosted by the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club.  This annual convention is an excellent opportunity to meet with amateur astronomers from across the nation.  Plus the convention this year is very convenient to Richmond!  It has been a number of years since the convention was held in a location so near to our area.  Information on location and registration is in your latest issue of the Reflector magazine, which you should receive if you are member of RAS since your membership in RAS automatically covers membership in the Astronomical League.  Also see the Astronomical League’s web site at and at for additional information.

Almost Heaven Star Party, September 2-6, Spruce Knob, WV:  Hosted by the Mountain Institute at a high altitude dark site.  Information at

Black Forest Star Party, September 2-4, Cherry Springs State Park, near Coudersport, PA:  Hosted by the Central Pennsylvania Observers.  More information at

East Coast Star Party, Coinjock, NC, October 20-22:  Kent Blackwell is kindly hosting his East Coast Star Party again this Fall at the Hampton Lodge Campground which offers casual stargazing in a coastal environment.  Pre-registration is not required.  Fees are $20 for star party registration, $20 per night camping fee (additional fee for R/V sites).  Contact Kent for more information at

Bays Mountain Starfest, October 21-23, Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium, Kingsport, TN:  The event is a non-profit, three-day, astronomical convention/star gathering hosted by the Bays Mountain Astronomy Club and Bays Mountain Planetarium filled with all sorts of astronomical treats! The event is going to be great as usual with fantastic speakers, food, and friends.  The them this year is the Marhsal Space Flight Center with four keynote speakers.  Registration closes on September 30, 2016 or if we fill up early – no walk-in registration allowed.  More information at this link:

Staunton River Star Party, October 24-30, Staunton River State Park:  Registration is now open for the October installment of the Staunton River Star Party.  For those that have not attended, this is an excellent star party with dark skies, convenient amenities and a state park staff that is very welcoming to astronomers and second to none in their dedication to making this a successful event.  More info is at

Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies (VAAS), October 29, Roanoke College, Salem, VA:  Registration is now live for the 40th annual conference of the Virginia Association of Astronomical Societies (VAAS)!  This year’s gathering will be hosted by the Roanoke Valley Astronomical Society, of Roanoke, Virginia, and the Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Physics of Roanoke College.  The site of the conference is the Colket Center at Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia.  The event begins at 8:30 a.m. and continues through 4:00 p.m.

The centerpiece of the conference is the line-up of four extraordinary speakers, Dr. Brad Barlow, Mr. Steve Conard, Dr. Dwight Holland and Dr. Harold (“Hal”) McAlister, representing a wide spectrum of astronomical and space science fields that will be of interest to all.  An observing session may be held that evening on the Blue Ridge Parkway, if sufficient interest is indicated by those registering in advance.

For full information regarding the 2016 VAAS annual conference, please visit our website at

Slooh Community Observatory

Jan 10th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog

The Slooh Community Observatory recently contacted RAS to make available Slooh’s live video feed on our website.  Slooh covers events of astronomical interest, hosts interviews with astronomers and space scientists and presents live telescope views during imaging runs from Slooh’s remote telescopes.

Below is the link to the live Slooh video feed:

If you want to use the Slooh observatory remotely, you can go to to join and take your own photos using the StarShare camera.  Note that there may be a cost to use the Slooh system, depending upon their service offers at the time.

Please let us know if you find the Slooh video feed interesting and whether we should have the video feed as a feature of our website.  Feedback is most welcome at




November 2015 Fall RAS Picnic

Nov 22nd, 2015 | By | Category: Blog

Nice picnic!

We had a great picnic at Belmead. The food was outstanding, the company was excellent and the skies were clear and dark. A great combination. For those that have not been to Belmead, it is a beautiful dark sky location in Powhatan County with an extremely rich history.

North side of the Belmead mansion (image courtesy of David Medici)

North side of the Belmead mansion (image courtesy of David Medici)

After partially setting up my telescope, I rounded the corner of the Belmead mansion and I saw David Medici in chef’s uniform who led me to grilling area where Chefs Matthew Roy and David Medici were grilling burgers and chicken with grilled onions and bacon as toppings.

Chef Medici and Chef Roy

Chef Medici and Chef Roy

By this time, we also had an array of salads, cheeses, fruit, veggies and desserts deployed. The firepit was cranking and more visitors were gradually trickling in. This round of food was followed by more that gradually arrived and a second grill with beef and vegetables was deployed. We ate well.

Snapshot 1 (11-15-2015 12-30 PM)


Throughout the picnic, there was not a cloud to be seen in the sky and temperatures were cool but not cold, somewhere in the 50’s. We could easily see blue sky down to the horizon. As the afternoon proceeded, the firepit served as a place to warm our hands. Geri Venable, who is a docent with the museum at Belmead, provided impromptu tours of the mansion to several visitors who were interested in learning a bit of Belmead history.

12250073_10208024273993044_2312410472695959734_n(Jim Blowers)

Belmead Sky (image courtesy of Jim Blowers)

As darkness approached we moved to the parking area where the telescopes were ready and were treated to a continuation of the clear skies. The Milky Way and all of the stars in the Little Dipper were visible, which is my quick test for a high quality sky. Temperatures dropped into the 40’s and ultimately down to 30 in the early morning hours. It was a cold evening, but very tolerable with warm clothing. A couple of us did some imaging; most were visually observing, about 10-15 scopes in total at various times during the evening. We had several folks who were trying to figure out how best to set up their telescopes or resolve technical issues. Based on my conversations with the other astronomers, I think most had a productive night. My original imaging target, Messier 15, had dropped too low in the sky by the time all of my equipment was working properly (at the same time), so I returned to an old favorite for a quick imaging run, Messier 42, which was rising in the east. Early in the evening, the seeing was good with maybe a little softening later on. Overall it was an excellent night for observing.  Bryan Hartley and Dan Gaitanis captured several high quality images.

Messier 31 - the Andromeda Galaxy (image courtesy of Dan Gaitanis)

Messier 31 – the Andromeda Galaxy (image courtesy of Dan Gaitanis)

The Flame and Horsehead Nebulae in Orion (image courtesy Bryan Hartley)

The Flame and Horsehead Nebulae in Orion (image courtesy Bryan Hartley)


Messier 45 - the Pleiades Cluster (image courtesy of Bryan Hartley)

Messier 45 – the Pleiades Cluster (image courtesy of Bryan Hartley)

A few thanks are definitely in order. Thanks to Chefs Matthew Roy and David Medici for supplying us with delectable burgers, chicken, bacon and grilled onions; thanks to Demetrius Venable for the use of his grill, Sr. Maureen and the FrancisEmma organization for hosting us and thanks to all the visitors and astronomers who shared views of the night sky with us. Thanks to everyone else who brought food and fixings (and for the grilled beef).  And one more special thanks to Matthew Roy for coordinating the event.

That was a nice picnic!

Also, please remember to support the Francis Emma organization when you have the opportunity. Francis Emma is working very hard to preserve Belmead and tell its story. By preserving this amazing property and its history they are also preserving an important component of our local ecosystem and preserving a sanctuary for dark sky observing. To donate to Francis Emma or to learn more about the organization and its work go to The preservation / conservation work of Francis Emma at Belmead will have far-reaching benefits to the local community and to the amateur astronomy community as well. It is a cause that is very much worth supporting.  WRIC TV recently presented an excellent news piece on Belmead at this link:

WRIC story about Belmead

East view of the mansion approaching from the driveway (image courtesy of WRIC TV)

Did I mention that it was a nice picnic? Thanks again for all the good food and to all the friends of RAS and Belmead that attended.
Jim Browder
Richmond Astronomical Society

Staunton River State Park is an IDA Dark Sky Park!

Oct 23rd, 2015 | By | Category: Blog

Staunton River State Park has been issued Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Sky Association! Many congratulations and thanks to Adam Layman, Park Manager and Jayme Hanzak, President of the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society. An excerpt from the press release announcing the designation follows:

“(TUCSON, Ariz., and RICHMOND) – Staunton River State Park, in Scottsburg, has been named an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), becoming the first park in Virginia and only the 25th park in the world with the designation. Staunton River State Park is managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)”

Staunton River State Park management has worked very hard to achieve Dark Sky Park status in conjunction with the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS). Achieving this milestone required securing the support of surrounding communities, collection of a substantial amount of information to characterize the sky darkness, develop strategic plans for maintaining and protecting the dark skies and documenting all of this information in a lengthy application. Many organizations, including RAS, submitted letters of support. As amateur astronomers, we owe our continued support to the Park for this monumental achievement.

Adam Layman and Jayme Hanzak speaking


Prashant Reddy

Sep 5th, 2015 | By | Category: Blog

Prashant Reddy, long-time member and friend of the Richmond Astronomical Society passed away at his home in Powhatan. Prashant could often be seen at Science Museum skywatches and other club events with the club’s solar scope or chatting with visitors. He coordinated several of our Astronomy Days at the Science Museum, planned several fall picnics for us at the scout camp in Goochland and at Belmead in Powhatan and helped staff our booth at RavenCon. He was generous in sharing his time and sharing his dark sky backyard in Powhatan with fellow observers by offering us an open invitation to stargaze from his driveway and providing a steady flow of hot chocolate along with a place to warm up on cold nights.


He particularly enjoyed observing with fellow astronomers and very much appreciated their encyclopedic knowledge of the sky that he appreciated. He told me so on more than one occasion.


A memorial service was held on Wednesday, August 12, 1:00 PM at the E. Alvin Small Funeral Home, 2033 Boulevard, Colonial Heights, VA.  A service was also held on Friday, August 14, 7:00 PM at the Hindu Temple, 6051 Springfield Rd., Glen Allen, VA.


Prashant Reddy at the RAS Observatory Telescope