Community Connections: OC Astronomers

The Nature Reserve relies on the support of our volunteers to help us offer a wide range of community programs. With help from a group of dedicated volunteer astronomers, The Nature Reserve has been hosting monthly Astronomy Nights for over 15 years.

Spencer Murray has been volunteering with The Nature Reserve since 2014.  His love of Astronomy started when he was 6 years old, looking through his first telescope, handmade by his neighbors.

Spencer recalls a memorable Astronomy Night:

“On a clear night after we set up our scopes and everyone arrived and was settled in with their hot chocolate and cookies, a thick marine layer moved in. We all looked at each other for ideas on what to do. We didn’t want to just call it off. As he usually does, Mike stood up unfazed and started his star tour. Mind you that we couldn’t see a thing. He pointed his laser into the marine layer and started the tour. All we could see was his beam disappearing into the clouds. He would say “if we could see, this object would be right here”. It was comical for sure. After he finished, we just sat around a discussed astronomy with the group. It turned out that everyone had a great and memorable time.”

The longtime volunteer that saved that cloudy astronomy night with his laser pointer is Mike Balmages. Mike delights audiences with his tour of the stars sharing his knowledge of the constellations, often with astronomy-themed jokes. Mike fell in love with astronomy when his uncle bought him a 4-inch reflector telescope for his bar mitzvah in 1959. He’s been volunteering with The Nature Reserve since the early 1990s and remembers an exciting astronomy night when “we were surrounded by coyotes howling at each other (or us!)”

James Shotwell, another decades long Nature Reserve volunteer, first became interested in astronomy when he stumbled into the annual meetup of the California/Nevada Astronomy Association back in the 1990s at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park. Through dozens of large-scale telescopes, he was able to see deep sky objects and was hooked. The next month he bought his first telescope from Costco. James shares, “There is always a shared joy when a person sees Saturn in the telescope for the first time. Nine out of ten declare, “Oh, wow!” The tenth often asked when this picture was taken.”

The Nature Reserve would like to thank all our volunteer astronomers for their enthusiasm and dedication to the Astronomy Night program. If you are interested in volunteering, join us at our next Volunteer Orientation and Training.  Check our events webpage for details.