Richmond Astronomical Society


Nice skywatch at the Museum

Sep 18th, 2016 | By | Category: Events


We had a good crowd last Friday night, including lots of young children–like this one, looking through Dan Salkovitz’s telescope. Jim Browder also had his video feed hooked up, and he got fantastic displays of Saturn.


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||

Perseids to ignite across skies late this week in one of best meteor viewing opportunities of 2016 –

Aug 10th, 2016 | By | Category: Events

As Earth passes through the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle late this week, the glowing trains of dying meteors will streak across the night sky, marking the annual return of the Perseid meteor shower.

Source: Perseids to ignite across skies late this week in one of best meteor viewing opportunities of 2016 –

Follow Mars to His Double Star Lair – Sky & Telescope

Jun 4th, 2016 | By | Category: Events

This week and early next, the nearly full Moon will make deep-sky viewing nearly impossible, but Mars will be untouched, as will that other category of stellar gems, double stars. Neither is affected much by moonlight, so bring it on.

Source: Follow Mars to His Double Star Lair – Sky & Telescope

Belmead in Peril!

May 7th, 2016 | By | Category: Events

Big news about Belmead in Powhatan!  As many of you know, we have developed a partnership over the past few years with Belmead in Powhatan, a beautiful, historic and relatively 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, Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Philadelphia, have decided to sell the entire 2,200 acre tract.  The local Virginia staff at Belmead was not involved in the decision and this turn of events was very much a surprise to them.  More information is presented in this article by Laura McFarland in the RTD and Powhatan Today.


A petition has been created to request reconsideration of the decision to sell.  Please consider signing the petition to support efforts to preserve Belmead.  A link to the petition is here.


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.


A Good Feed Indeed

Nov 22nd, 2015 | By | Category: Events

The RAS Fall picnic was a success thanks to our master chefs, kind visitors who brought an array of delicious items, grilling equipment, Belmead for hosting us and the clear dark skies of Powhatan County.  All conspired to make for a great picnic.  Thanks to all.  A blog post about the event with pictures captured by attending astronomers is here.

M42-14Nov2015 (Jim Browder) copy

VAAS 2015

Oct 11th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

VAAS 2015 was a success (except it was rainy, so we enjoyed all of the indoor activities).  A short slideshow appears here.  Many thanks to the Charlottesville Astronomical Society, University of Virginia and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Headquarters for supporting the event.



Lunar Eclipse September 27

Sep 5th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

Total Lunar Eclipse, Sunday, September 27, 8:00 PM: Weather permitting, RAS will view the total lunar eclipse from the Science Museum of Virginia and will broadcast the event at The Museum will be open until midnight with indoor astro activities from 8 PM – 10 PM! Please join us if you can.  If the weather is favorable, this should be an excellent opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse – The events will be well placed at a convenient time to view.


– Eclipse begins: Sun, Sep 27, 2015 at 8:11 PM
– Maximum: Sun, Sep 27, 2015 at 10:47 PM
– Ends: Mon, Sep 28, 2015 at 1:22 AM
– Duration: 5 hours, 11 minutes. More details here.


Total lunar eclipse

Total Lunar Eclipse – image courtesy NASA

Meteor Shower August 12

Aug 12th, 2015 | By | Category: Events

Be sure to go outside August 12, to see one of the best meteor showers of them all. The Perseids Meteor Shower will peak tomorrow morning around 2 am EST, but there should be plenty to see all night long.