Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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What a Great Neighborhood
October 15, 2008

Tonight was a blast. Donna and I jumped out to the park when we learned that a photographer from the Manhattan Times came out to do a photo set of us for a story written by Bibi Nunez. Well, we found that the Clear Sky Clock was again correct (how does he do it?) and it would be a great night. This time, not only was it a wonderful night for observing, but the community was out in full force. We met so many nice people, Victor and Christina, David (a true recidivist), Emily, Leo and his lovely sidekick (you'll have to come back for me to get the name, sorry), and so many others, that someday I'll have to go out with a recording device and just get people's names. Tonight, we met so many people who were so happy that we were out there with the telescope, showing off the night sky.

It is this great little neighborhood. Our tiny green and concrete spot on the hill, with all the kind people who gave us so much support. I honestly thought I would not have too many people for the photo shoot, but then people kept coming by. Everyone out waking their dogs, coming home from the store with groceries, walking by on their way, and a large number of kids out in the park. What I thought would be an empty night had a lot of that Full Moon Magic. Smiles and chats abounded. The telescope became a community axis, a source of pride that someone cared enough about our neighborhood to do something different, and give a great reason to come outside and into the park at night.

Whether we looked at Jupiter (Wow so many times, I am getting to the point where I am noticing it move against the background stars....), of course the Full Moon (lotsa jokes and chuckles about the brightness and beauty), Albireo overhead. But the best was the young boy, mother at his side, asking question after question. There she was patiently admiring her son, holding 24 rolls of Bounty paper towels from somewhere down the street. I happily gave him one of the prize posters of the night. It was his boundless enthusiasm, it kept me bouyant, and made me really start to realize something Lon found on his ride across America, that it is all about the people around you, and that join you on the journey. I have a lot of traveling, but it has taken just looking at the Ring Nebula or The Perseus Double Cluster with these people, these neighbors, these friends under the dark skies, who just want to hear the story of nature and the story of the stars, to help me feel at home. New York City is truly becoming home.

I am learning that I am just the gateway for the briefest posession of some of the most amazing ideas ever learned by humanity. I am also taking cab rides and see familiar storefronts and remembering great dates with Donna all over the town.

Now, as the night skies come back into my life, I am so happy and so thankful that I can point out the favorite hangouts in the comforting darkness, and say "I looked there."

The night sky is the best hangout, the best living room, the newest neighbor with lots of new friends.

Now coming up on the 31st, Halloween Night, we have the Inwood Haunted Forest. I'll be taking the telescopes out that night too, parking in the park right outside the entrance. I'll have to come up with a cloudy-sky option just in case. Perhaps Stellarium on a backdrop....

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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