The Milky Way’s galactic arm stretches across Blacktip Island’s Eagle Ray Cove Wednesday night. A group of amateur astronomers has banded together to form the island’s first astronomy club. (photo of Kristian Pikner)
An informal group of astronomy enthusiasts this week joined forces to form the small Caribbean island’s first official astronomy club to alleviate boredom while tourism is derailed due to COVID-related border closings.
“Everybody was sitting around, just staring into space one night after the Ballyhoo closed, and the idea hit us,” Blacktip Island Astronomy Society president Cal Batten said. “We figured we might as well watch stars together since we were doing it anyway after the bars close.
“There’s too many lights around buildings, though, so we meet out on the airstrip,” Batten said. “Everybody brings a folding lounge chair and their beverage of choice and we stay up most of the night watching the stars, hoping for a comet, that sort of thing.”
Society members say the club is a way to better themselves.
“I was going to learn a language, but this is less stressful and more useful,” Cori Anders said. “Plus, you can drink while you do it. It’s encouraged, actually. And it’s an opportunity to learn something new.
“Like, I know I’m a Sagittarius, but wasn’t sure what that meant,” Anders said. “So hopefully this’ll give me some insight into that.”
Others echoed Anders’ sentiments.
“I’m never sure which stars are which, or what people are talking about,” Lee Helm said. “But I do like laying on my back and watching the stars spin. You feel safe in a group. Unless the constable shows up.”
Island authorities are tolerant of the group’s activities, to a point.
“Club members are free to use the landing strip, provided they police all garbage when they leave,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “They also have to be gone at first light so they don’t interfere with arriving aircraft. Anyone laying on the runway at dawn will be arrested, be they conscious or otherwise. And they have been. Not to mention anyone by name, but his initials are Dermott Bottoms.”
Club officers include: Cal Batten, president; Marina DeLow, vice president; Peachy Bottoms, secretary; and Reg Gurnard, bartender.
The club’s informal structure is its greatest strength, members said.
“Folks who know about stars and stuff teach the rest of us,” Alison Diesel. “The other night, Cal brought out his big telescope to give us all cool views of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. And James Conlee, he swears he saw Uranus.”