An astronomy club or astronomical society is an organization, usually composed of amateur astronomers, for the advancement, enjoyment, and participation in astronomy.
Generally speaking, astronomy clubs are focused on education of the public toward astronomy and astronomy-related subjects and the promotion of astronomy as a hobby. While the particular activities and focus of such clubs varies from group to group, they are all generally interested in advancing awareness and sharing in the wonder of astronomy.
Below you can find a list of astronomy clubs around the world. Please feel free to add your own if it is not listed.
Why Join a Club
As mentioned above, the specifics vary from club to club, however, there are common trends among most clubs.
Most clubs conduct regular, most often monthly, meetings. For most clubs this includes a discussion of club business, but the focal point is some form of presentation on a specific topic. The topic may include such topics as using, maintaining, or constructing telescopes, techniques concerning astrophotography, or discussions of visible objects in the night, or it may be a more broadly-based discussion of astronomy, such as discussing the life cycle of stars, recent discoveries in exoplanets, the physics behind star formation, or even community-related topics such as light pollution and what can be done to improve it. Some clubs have multiple sessions aimed at beginners and more advanced members. Many clubs also conduct workshops and training classes for observing and using telescopes.
While most clubs conduct meetings like this, they tend to be more centered around observing activities. In such clubs, many members own telescopes and, in fact, may have joined in order to learn more about using and maintaining their telescope. To this end, many clubs either own or have access to a piece of land reserved as an observing site, or a "dark site." A Dark Site is a place reserved for observing where light pollution is better regulated. Most such places are outside of major cities, but within relatively easy driving distance. They typically are shielded from major roads by walls, fences, trees, and/or bushes and usage of light, particularly white light, during observing times is generally restricted (see Light Discipline for more information).
Not all clubs have access to their own dark site. However, in those cases, members of the club will usually have scouted out areas that are generally conducive for observing activities. Such locations are often found in municipal parks in a city or town, or in state parks or nature preserves outside of town. The primary features of such sites are little traffic/stray light and skies with noticeably less light pollution than in the city.
Many clubs also conduct regular star parties. A star party is a gathering, often at a club's dark site, where those who have telescopes bring them out and the assembled members and guests spend an evening observing. Most telescope owners are generally happy to let others look through their telescope, and many are happy to talk all about the equipment being used and the object(s) being viewed. Star parties may simply be gatherings of members or may have a focus on outreach. Many clubs also offer to conduct them for schools and community organizations.
Those clubs that own their own dark site or have access to one in association with a school, business, or other organization sometimes also have their own observatory or access to an observatory, at which one or more telescopes are permanently mounted in a facility designed for the purpose. These telescopes are often larger and/or more expensive and complex than most members would have the ability to purchase, though sometimes they're more modest systems. Clubs that have observatories typically have a process for members to be able to access them.
Star parties are also a great way for those who don't have telescopes to learn more about them before they purchase. Attending a star party will usually allow a member to look through several different types of telescope and give him or her a chance to talk to the owner about the experience of owning a particular type of telescope.
Some clubs also have club-owned equipment for users to borrow. Loaner scope programs often provide access to fairly common telescopes to members and may serve as a way for members to try out different types of telescope before they spend the money themselves on their own.
In the United States, most local clubs are also members of the Astronomical League, or AL, which serves as something of a parent organization for astronomy clubs and societies in the US as well as offering "member at large" membership to those not part of a specific club and those outside of the United States. Among the benefits of membership in the AL is access to their Observing Programs. The AL Observing Programs are designed to help provide a purpose and direction to observations (giving those who participate a sense of a mission to accomplish). Many such programs award a certificate and/or pin to commemorate the observer's achievement. For example, those who complete the Messier Observing Program will get a certificate after observing 70 of the 110 objects in the Messier Catalog, and observation of the full list of 110 will earn a certificate and pin. To qualify, the observations must be logged with specific information and this information must be approved (either by a local club official or by the national coordinator).
Most clubs in the United States are 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. However, most do charge annual membership dues to maintain club equipment and facilities and to do such things as pay for guest speakers and awards.
In the US, at the time of this writing (October of 2019), club dues for most local clubs cost $50 per year or less, with many being significantly less. Many clubs also prorate club membership depending on the month in which a member joins.
- The Houston Astronomical Society in Houston, TX, currently charges annual dues of $36 per year for a standard membership (there are also senior, student, and family rates). If a member joins in October, they would pay only $9 (a rate of $3 per month times 3 months) for the remainder of the year, then pay the full $36 at the beginning of the following year for that year's membership.
- The Riverside Astronomical Society in Riverside, CA, has an introductory rate of $20 for individuals, with a renewal rate of $40, and offering "Patron" memberships of $100, $200, and $300 per year for Bronze, Silver, and Gold memberships (respectively).
Not all clubs prorate, but it is fairly common. Other clubs handle dues on a rotating-year model (e.g. if you join in October, your membership is good through the next October, at which time you must renew). Contact your local club for specifics concerning dues.
For clubs that are members of the Astronomical League, typically a portion of your regular dues is used to pay your membership in the AL. The cost of AL membership for members of member clubs is typically significantly less than membership-at-large.
For clubs outside of the United States, the cost will vary.
Lists of Clubs
- Astronomical League The Astronomical League is a collection of clubs throughout the United States. The link provided will allow you to find a club near you within your state.
- Night Sky Network The Night Sky Network, or NSN, is a partnership between NASA/JPL, The Astronomical Society of the Pacific, numerous individual astronomy clubs and societies, the Institute for Learning Innovation, and several other organizations with an interest in science, astronomy, and education. They include a listing of clubs and events, searchable by Zip Code.
- Go Astronomy Club Lists Go Astronomy is a website with a variety of resources for astronomy, and worth a look for many reasons. They also include a very extensive directory of clubs, societies, observatories, and planetariums, mostly n the United States.
- Sky And Telescope Sky And Telescope magazine's online site also has a database of clubs, organizations, museums, observatories, and more. Their content is focused on the United States, but includes international content as well. Their database does not appear to be particularly well curated, however, and club listings may be out of date.
- UK Clubs This link provides a list of clubs by county in the UK.
- European Clubs This link provides a list of clubs in Europe.
- Austrailian Clubs This link provides a list of clubs in Austrailia.
- Canadian Clubs This link provides a list of clubs in Canada.