Astronomers trade lamp light for star light in a tiny town in Taliaferro Co.

Published: Jul. 27, 2017 at 6:04 PM EDT
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Thursday, July 27, 2017 / News 12 NBC 26 at 6 O'Clock

TALIAFERRO COUNTY, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Ever heard of Sharon, Georgia? It's barely a dot on the map in Taliaferro County, but that's part of the appeal for a group of amateur astronomers who created an astronomy village there, far away from big city lights and noise.

Some come on the weekends, some own houses and observatories, and some have even retired there.

The idea all started a little over ten years ago when Chris Hetlage and a buddy from Atlanta were looking for a place they could enjoy their hobby- away from the big city lights.

"We would go out to the mountains or wherever we had to go, drag all our equipment, in some cases, a lot of equipment," Hetlage said.

But, they were looking for something more permanent. And dark. Really dark.

But how did they find this property in Sharon, GA? Population: 132.

"This property was actually owned back in Civil War days by a guy who was an astronomer... Don and I came out and did some studies to make sure the skies were dark enough, and it just turned out that way," Hetlage said.

And while typically a rural town with little chance of growth sounds like a bad thing, it was exactly what they were looking for.

"Economically, there's not a lot of growth here, there's not a lot popping up. The chances of a Wal-Mart or a Home Depot aren't very good," he said.

And so, Deerlick Astronomy Village was born, getting its name from a collection of galaxies. It's 96 acres of wide open, star gazing heaven that come with a few strings attached.

"Each homeowner has to agree to the covenants, and one of the covenants is you can't have lights inside your house that shine outside,"

Every house has black out curtains. And, that rule includes car headlights. You can only use red lights at night that won't mess up the view for these deep sky enthusiasts.

"There's a noise ordinance....we don't want loud animals or chickens. No roosters waking us up after we just went to bed," he said.

It's the quietest red light district you'll ever find.

"This is the kind of place where it's not uncommon to knock on someone's door at one in the morning and have a conversation with them," Hetlage said.

But, instead of asking for a cup of sugar, these neighbors are asking about supernovas. Even though they call themselves 'amateur' astronomers, their gear, is anything but amateur.

"Let's just say my observatory is insured for more than my house," says Dan Ford.

Most of the roofs out here, like Dan's, retract, to make it easy to protect their telescopes.

But, out here, the real fun begins when the sun goes down. A lot of their discoveries and photos taken out at DAV have been published. Some, like Dan Llewellyn, even do work for NASA. Right now, he's working on imaging the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.

"There's a little mecca of Astro celebrities, that live out here," Llewellyn laughs.

Astronomy is a life long fascination that started for so many of them as kids, staring up at the night sky.

"I remember seeing Saturn for the first time when I was seven years old at the Fernbank Science Center, and that lit off something inside my brain," Llewellyn said.

Which is why they make it a point to give back. They host scout troops for camping trips and have the kids at Taliaferro County Schools visit to get a look behind the lens.

"Hopefully that will be a spark in somebody else that will change their life and send them down the path of discovery," said Llewellyn.

And while it's a path that may give you a crick in your neck, it will never leave your sense of wonder thirsty.

If you're interested in learning more about DAV, click the link below: