No Red Carpet at FAU Star Party

By Howard Ketter

Sun Star Reporter

Photography was flashed and people stood in lines, but the only celebrity at this “Star Party” was the man on the moon.

Fairbanks Astronomical Unit (FAU) members Pete Finnof, Debi-Lee WIlkinson, and Martin Gutowski twisted and turned knobs, precision lining their telescopes for the Equinox Star Party they hosted at Creamer’s Field Sept. 18.

“This is International Observe the Moon Night,” Gutowski explained to the arriving guests.

The show started at 8 p.m., just before the sun set over the hills surrounding Fairbanks. Men, women and children arrived car by car for at least the first nippy hour of the night.

“This is a pretty fair turnout,” said Gutowski. “There were times we’ve held star parties in negative 25 degree weather.”

Gutowski gave out diagrams which identified the shapes and craters on the moon. Children gawked at the large viewing devices being used, while the FAU members described to them what they were witnessing.

“We’re using manual Newtonian telescopes, originally invented by British scientist [Sir] Isaac Newton,” said Gutowski, adjusting the telescope often to compensate for Earth’s rotation changing its alignment.

“I love to see families gather to observe the stars, but I also have aperture fever,” described Gutowski of his love for astronomical equipment. “Half the fun of seeing with an unguided telescope is bumping it along to follow the planets and stars as the earth spins underneath them so folks can say wow every three minutes.”

“I was walking my dog the other night and [Ms. Wilkinson] was adjusting her telescope,” said Dennis Jelinek, who attended with his wife and daughter.

Jelinek said that he lived in the neighborhood and running into Ms. Wilkinson was how he was informed about the event.

FAU actually has a blog at and advertises their events, like the International Observe the Moon night, every Thursday in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

FAU began as a student club at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1986. It will be 25 years since the club began next February.

“It’s our mission to build a permanent facility for public education in astronomy,” said Gutowski.

He said that the university has contributed observatory domes in support of the club’s efforts. One is about 10 feet in diameter at Poker Flat Rocket Range and one that is 21 feet off of the Chapman building.

The club was founded by about a dozen interested students who wanted to provide a venue for locals to view Halley’s Comet. That night they continued the tradition of a party that was free for all who were interested, no A-list required.

Jelinek said his family enjoyed observing the moon.

“It’s neat to see things that you can’t with the naked eye, my family and I will more than likely attend another.”


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