Richmond Astronomical Society


Skywatch at Matoaca Middle

Mar 3rd, 2017 | By | Category: Events

We had a great crowd of about 50-60 students and parents, last night, March 2, with a perfect night for star gazing. Ray Moody, Madhup Rathi, and myself (Terry Barker) used our telescopes to show off the Moon, Venus M42, and a few double stars. We started off inside the school, where Madhup gave a Powerpoint presentation of what we were going to be looking at. This gave the kids something to anticipate before heading outside.



Skywatch at Midlothian High

Dec 3rd, 2016 | By | Category: Events

Around 20 students and parents enjoyed the night sky on Dec. 1, using my (Terry Barker) telescope to to view the Moon, Pleiades, and double stars Albireo and Zeta Lyra. And we saw a great pass of the ISS passing almost directly overhead. As you can imagine, the sky in Midlothian is pretty muddy with light pollution, so there wasn’t much point in looking for the Andromeda Galaxy or other fainter objects. But, it was worth the trip when one young man shouted out his amazement at seeing the magnified Moon as soon as we started. I need to hire him for my next sky watch.


Belmead Update

Nov 4th, 2016 | By | Category: Blog, Events

Belmead update – good news / bad news:  The bad news is that the Belmead property is now officially on the market and this situation jeopardizes long-term continuation of our observing at Belmead and our outreach facility there, not to mention preservation of the property in general.  The good news is that a new non-profit organization, aptly named “Belmead on the James, Inc.,”  committed to preservation of the property, has been created and is planning to submit a bid for purchase of the property. However, they need our help along with help from all those interested in preserving this valuable, historic and dark sky site in Powhatan County.  A November 1 press release about the organization is here.
Belmead once existed as a place of human enslavement and was transformed in the 1890’s into a place of empowerment and education.  With the right amount of support, Belmead will continue to exist as a model of land stewardship, agriculture, equestrian activity, a living history museum and as a place of environmental education and preservation.  It will also serve as a place that offers astronomers a respite from urban lights where we can observe, image and share views of night sky wonders through our outreach education efforts.  The Belmead on the James organization is planning to submit a proposal to purchase, preserve and manage the property in a way that is compatible with this vision for the future of Belmead.
To make this happen and to ensure that their proposal is credible and competitive, Belmead on the James needs to raise $400,000 by December 1.  They have asked 4,000 of their supporters to donate $100 each to reach this goal.  If you can help Belmead on the James preserve this important property along with its history, its environment and its dark skies, please do so. Preservation of this important site will benefit a number of varied interests, including local amateur astronomy and science education.  You can donate or learn more about Belmead on the James at


Non-profit kicks-off campaign to raise $400,000 to purchase historic Belmead on the James.

POWHATAN, VIRGINIA November 1, 2016 – The newly formed nonprofit Belmead on the James, Inc. today launched a major campaign to raise $400,000 towards the purchase of the Belmead property in Powhatan, Virginia from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (SBS). The 2,265-acre property is the site where St. Emma Military Academy and St. Francis de Sales High School, established by Louise Drexel Morrell and Saint Katharine Drexel respectively, operated from 1895 to 1972 and educated over 15,000 African American youth. On May 3, 2016, the SBS announced their intention to sell Belmead, and on October 26, 2016 the property was officially placed on the market.



Oct 22nd, 2016 | By | Category: Blog, Events

The RAS skywatch scheduled for October 21 at the Science Museum of Virginia was canceled due to clouds.  However, the less-than-favorable observing weather provided an opportunity for RAS astronomers on site to take in the Science Museum’s “Glow” event where we experienced lots of great displays including a Bernoulli blast of ping pong balls, resonant pendulums, lots of fluorescence and even fire dancers from the very proficient Circular Expressions dance troupe! The Science Museum did an excellent job with the event. Below is a short video. (more…)

Geology at the RAS Observatory?

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

Geology is a little different for us, but we are an eclectic lot and have widely varying interests. Recently RAS member Randy Tatum hosted Michael Davias and friends from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences to sample the sediments underlying the RAS Ragland Observatory.  As it turns out, our observatory sits in one of a number of a “Carolina Bays,” which are depressions along the Atlantic seaboard that are often not readily visible from the ground, but can be identified through aerial photography and LIDAR. Michael Davias is hoping to use data from the cores collected at our observatory to help understand more about the formation of these interesting features.  The core data will also enhance general understanding of the geology in the Bon Air area where our observatory is located.


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


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 –