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St. Louis Astronomical Society Shares the Gift of Stargazing

Generous members of the SLAS
Generous members of the SLAS prepare a fleet of Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescopes for donation to local libraries.

Spreading goodwill and holiday cheer around the communities we live in is one of our favorite parts of the season. The good folks at the St. Louis Astronomical Society in St. Louis, Missouri keep this holiday spirit alive every day of the year with their many public outreach efforts. Through the generosity and hard work of SLAS members, they've worked with local libraries and the YMCA to make 18 Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Telescopes available to the local public with the St. Louis Library Telescope Project. We recently asked Society President Jim Small a few questions about his own stargazing experiences, and the laudable community outreach efforts of the SLAS.

How did you first become interested in astronomy?
I got interested because of my father, Bob Small, who was a science teacher at Hazelwood.

What is it about astronomy that makes you the most excited?
I like all aspects of astronomy, but most of all I like learning about all the cutting edge discoveries about our universe

What is your favorite object or type of object to view?
Star clusters and nebulae.

What advice would you give to beginners who are interested in astronomy?
Start with naked eye viewing of the night sky. Get some books, like NightWatch by Terence Dickinson, and apps to help you learn the sky and about the objects you can see. Observe with binoculars! Attend a star party, meet and talk with astronomers. Night Sky Network ( can help you find a star party. Attend a club meeting. Join a club so you can borrow various types of telescopes before you buy one!

When did the St. Louis Astronomical Society get started?
Our society was founded in 1936. We celebrated our 75th anniversary in 2011 with a gala featuring John Dobson calling in "live" to speak to our group which was a lot of fun.

How did the St. Louis Library Telescope Project get started and what is its purpose?
I first saw a Library Telescope in 2012 when Marc Stowbridge was around with one at NEAF. I then saw a presentation about it at ALCON in 2013 and another presentation by John Goss at ALCON 2014. We liked the idea because it brings astronomy into the homes of the public, letting them experience the night sky at their leisure. Our membership agreed to fund a pilot project with three telescopes in August 2014. When we introduced the program to area libraries, they loved the idea and decided to purchase an additional 14 telescopes themselves! YMCA Trout Lodge wanted one too, making 18 telescopes in the program.

Two happy YMCA staffers
Two happy staffers of the YMCA of the Ozarks Trout Lodge show off their new
Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Telescope

Besides the St. Louis Library Telescope Project, what other public outreach activities is the SLAS involved in?
SLAS has a rich tradition of public outreach serving nearly 19,000 visitors with over 170 events just since 2012. We have strong relationships with the St. Louis Science Center/Planetarium, Gateway Arch, YMCA and regional communities, schools and park systems. Our star parties can draw 200 or more visitors.

How many members does SLAS have and how does one join the club?
We have over 150 members drawing from both Missouri and Illinois. Some are new to astronomy and some have over 50 years of experience. This depth of experience and energy level gives us the ability to tackle big projects like the Library Telescope Project. Our next project is helping our region prepare for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse which will be a lifetime event for area residents.

What are some of the favorite Orion products used by SLAS members?
The club owns a Short Tube 80, there are a number of 8" Dobsonian telescopes around, video eyepiece, smartphone adapters, camera adapters, filters, Sirius Plossl eyepieces, etc. We also support the astronomy programs at YMCA Trout Lodge ( and turned to Orion to purchase an 8" Dobsonian that was perfect fit for their needs in power and ease of use.

Any suggestions on how to get more folks interested in the hobby of amateur astronomy?
We think the library telescope program will do a great job of this! It allows people to use a telescope themselves for a long period instead of just looking through a star party scope for 30 seconds! We also think the total solar eclipse in 2017 will also be a great boon for astronomy. You have to get astronomy out to where the public is!