Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Best Night in the Park Yet.
July 12, 2008

We had a great impromptu night in Inwood Hill Park. Donna and I had four intrepid explorers, Luke, David, Tim and Jim who accompanied us up into the unlit Top Of The Hill. Well, there is a great clearing up there where the street lights do not penetrate, and after some odd looks by the local drunks in the park, asking us if we were a film crew we ascended to the dark upper reaches. Not too bad up there. In fact quite good. Within minutes, I was able to point out M57, Alberio, Delta Boo, Mu Boo, Beta Lyrae, and Alcor and Mizar. Hercules was very high in the sky just near the zenith, and with a dob mount, it gets tricky. But we waited a bit and M13 came into easy view. We could see many constellations, and if it had not been hidden by the trees, we should have been able to see M81/M82. It is fun to see people pick stuff up.

We also saw one of the Iridium satellites pass overhead. They do get quite bright very quickly. But most fun of all, as I was pointing out the constellation Bootes to the crew, we had a little meteorite zip past Arcturus. It seemed to be coming from the direction of Ursa Major, but hey, at 11:00 EST, not really sure which shower, if any it would have been associated. It went about 3 degrees before petering out. It got about as bright as Arcturus.

When we finished up there with a good look at M13 and a double in Bootes (lotsa nice ones), we headed down the hill. It was like leaving behind a new friend. We had found something quite exciting and peaceful, even having one of those "let's be quiet under the big dark sky" moments.

When we got down to the street, we picked up 5 more people as we saw Jupiter rising in the East. So we set up fast to catch the passersby, and were feasting on a great sight. Even low in the sky, even with car lights coming practically down the scope, we saw the bands quite clearly, and if it were a 10" scope and not just a 6", we would clearly have seen the Big Red Spot. We just kept looking and looking at our big neighbor in the sky. Even a young couple who clearly were out of their element had to come back to see. Even with tattoos and a cultural difference, the night sky proved me right. It crosses all cultures and boundaries. All people see the wonders the same, and are filled with awe. It opens minds and eyes, and the sight of Jupiter invariably gives a smile to people's faces.

In these tough economic times, what with the near collapse of Mae and Mac, the stars give us hope, peace and wonder. A good thing today. Besides, everyone who showed up got a cool postcard, especially the 5 walkybys under the streetlights. Free stuff is cool.

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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