Best Seats on the Planet for Star Gazing



During the clear, crisp nights of winter, there is no better time to bundle up and head outdoors to take in the spectacular star-dotted skies of the Upper East Side of Texas.

Because the atmosphere during colder weather is usually calm, the stars at night appear even brighter than normally seen during the more turbulent summer.

One group of devoted star gazers is the  Astronomical Society of East Texas (ASET). They regularly hold free activities including family-friendly star gazing parties around the region and at the Center for Earth and Space Science Education (CESSE) at Tyler Junior College.

CESSE is a first-of-its-kind facility in East Texas. With a 40-foot Spitz nano-seam domed theatre, the planetarium features an immersive, full-dome video experience as well as a state-of-the-art exhibit hall.

ASET star parties encourage astronomers and beginning star gazers to come explore the love and wonder of the limitless sky. Staff and volunteers share their knowledge and passion for astronomy.  For many, it is a life-long interest passed on to them at a young age and the star gazing parties offer the opportunity to instill that infatuation in others.

At a recent star party more than a hundred amateur astronomers and families attended.  The curious crowd mingled in the parking area outside the center observing the staggering views of the moon’s surface through a handful of powerful telescopes.

“This is one of the biggest events they’ve had on campus so far,” said Cory McCoy, a journalist for the college newspaper,  “There’s a big turnout. There are some really nice telescopes here tonight.”

Many took time to enjoy the planetariums free space and star viewing film inside the theater, in addition to the real-time show outside. Not just for science geeks, the star party’s relaxed atmosphere offers a fun and interesting night out for all, with the opportunity to learn about constellations, astrophotography and even the how-tos of building your own telescope.

“I came out tonight to show off my stuff I guess,” said Don Kilfoyle, a Longview resident and ASET member since 1990s, who builds many of his telescopes. “When I was a little boy I saw a telescope I wanted in a shop and I had to have it,” he said. “My mom bought it for me and I had a carpenter make wooden legs for it. That’s how it started.”

Due to light pollution on this night, viewing was limited, but that did not seem to hinder the festive mood.

“Tonight there isn’t a lot to see, but the moon,” said Paul Shaw, another ASET member for more than 10 years, “but later in the fall there will be some good constellations to see, like Orion, and a meteor shower.”

According to Shaw, in late November or early December a special bright comet crosses the East Texas sky. A lecture about this event, Comet Ison, takes place November 2 at CESSE. 

With a keen interest in astronomy since childhood, Shaw later earned a degree in it and today enjoys spending his time instill that appreciation in others.

“When I was 10-years-old my mom and dad called me out to see a comet cross the sky,” he remembers, “and I was hooked. I got my first telescope out of the back of Boy’s Life Magazine when I was about 12.”

With more than 60 members, the ASET group continues to grow and welcomes new members interested in learning more. Besides CESSE the group holds star viewing outings in a variety of locations with the Mineola Nature Preserve being a perennial favorite.

Star gazing in just about any East Texas backyard is also one of the best seats on the planet.

To learn more about the Astronomical Society of Texas visit

Center for Earth & Space Science Education
 Tyler Junior College
1411 E. Lake St. Tyler, TX 75701


Space Park 360. Documentary. Fun depiction
of roller coasters on different planets.

Mystery of the Christmas Star. Documentary. What the star in the bible might have been.

November 1-January 31
Astro Art Exhibit. Various space art including
 that of NASA artist Pat Rawlings

November 2. Lecture by Professor Douglas Parsons, “Comet Ison”

November 9. 5-9 p.m. ASET Star Party

November 23. Lecture by Dr.Karl Giberson, “America’s Creation-Evolution Controversy”

November 24. Science & Faith Panel Discussion

December 7.  7-8 p.m. ASET Meeting
CESSE Classroom

OPEN: Wed, Thurs 1:30 - 5 p.m.
Fri 1:30 - 6 p.m.
Sat. 10:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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