The name says it all. Since 1988, the Whatcom Association of Celestial Observers, WACO for short, has brought together those interested in observing and photographing outer space. The goal? To make astronomy fun.
Justin Katsinis joined WACO about two years ago, making him one of the newest members of what’s becoming a well-seasoned group. Many people in the club have been stargazing for decades, some for as many as 50 or 60 years.
At fewer than 20 members, the club is hoping to expand its reach, particularly to those who already hold an interest in amateur astronomy telescopes, or space photography.
“A lot of people enjoy just looking at the stars, but might not know what they’re looking at. We can help you figure out what you’re looking at and where to look,” Katsinis says.
While there are plenty of helpful online videos and even apps that map constellations when you point your phone at the sky, Katsinis says the club and its firsthand knowledge have been invaluable to his progress as an astrophotographer.
“Nothing will ever make up for somebody that has experience looking at the sky for years and can tell you exactly where a star is, or what’s next to it, where the next galaxy is, when a planet’s going to pop up over the horizon,” Katsinis says.
For decades, WACO has helped community members connect with the night sky. The club hosts various events throughout the year, including a Telescope in the Park event in Boulevard Park during first quarter moons, when shadows emphasize the moon’s craters.
Official club meetings take place at the WECU bank in Ferndale on the second Thursday of every month. (Until Whatcom moves into phase three, meetings will be held virtually.) All meetings are open to the public, and members or guests from the community sometimes present on topics ranging from astrophotography to galaxies and nebulas.
For Katsinis, this is the club’s true magic: sharing a love of space with others.
“When somebody first looks through a telescope and sees the rings on Saturn or the bands of Jupiter…they’re going to say ‘wow,’ and possibly some expletives… That’s one of my favorite things about it, to see the look on somebody’s face when they see something like that,” he says.
On September 26, NASA is hosting its annual International Observe the Moon Night; granted COVID-19 restrictions allow, WACO plans to host some kind of presentation. You can also join the club for star parties at Artist Point on September 12 and 19 at 8:30pm, as well as Telescope in the Park events on the 23 at 6:30pm.
To learn more, visit whatcomastronomy.com or check the club’s Facebook page for updates on meetings, events, and star parties.