Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Feb 4 report and sorry nothing happening on the 7th..
February 7, 2009

Well first off, it looks bad for tonight, February 7: The Clear Sky Clock is showing it to be overcast. So, no observing the stars tonight....

BUT! February 4 was SPECTACULAR! We had a great night. It was quite cold, and I was actually the most under-dressed of the lot. I woke up with a scratchy throat and thought I might have to bag it. But lo and behold, my lovely wife loves to cook with garlic and had prepared a fragrant feast to take to work for lunch. By 2pm, my scratch had gone, and I was getting geared for a good clear night.

And good it was.

I zipped out there, with my mount on my back and my scope in my hand, and was greeted by two smiling faces, Sheila and Connie, bundled up far more then I was. As I was setting up, there were a few incredulous dog-walkers and grocery shoppers in the area. Elvin showed up, ready to meet and greet. Then came Peter Tagatac, one of AAA's observing group, who had brought his binoculars on a tripod. Then along came Andrew Epstein from the AMNH Explainers.

Here we were, a goodly group, all out on Seaman and Isham under those darn lights. We had a cute couple stay with us and freeze: Lisa and her man (forgot, sorry) but as I taunted her with her anagrammatic name associated with distant and mysterious gravitational waves, the crowd grew. I gave away calendars and chatted about the sky's clarity.

Even under the streetlights, the quarter-moon was crisp, the Orion nebula jumped out and the Perseus cluster shone through easily.

I am starting to notice that what I thought I had were really too good eyes, but the cold does some work on the high clouds over New York City. If you look right at them, prominent 3.5 mag stars do make themselves known. The casual sky-noticer (i.e. someone who comes up out of their iPhone) won't ever see a star, but outdoor adapting comes easily, and stars patiently wait to be seen. We could all see the top star in the sword of Orion, and even the star off and below the belt.

Well, the crowd thinned, as it will when the air temp is 15 degrees Fahrenheit and 5 or less with windchill. I finally put on my hat and gloves. ( I do get worked up, and had to keep them off to not sweat....). Then it was time to go up top.

Our group was about 8 up on the Inwood Hill top. Once up top our true nemesis appeared: the intensely wasteful lighting from Columbia football fields. I am sure that they will shut down those lights to save money sometime soon, so I am not worried. Downturns can have good effects too. Anyway, we dodged between the quarter moon and those lights. Thanks to Peter for careful vision and proper starhopping. We found M36 and M38 using the Leaping Minnow and the Chesire Cat. Peter hit a whole bunch of other doubles, and cruised through his list of variables. Jordan and Alexander joined us up there.

Inevitably, it got really cold. And all but Peter and I were left at the top. Then, Columbia Fields turned off their lights, and we got our show. With the lights off, we scouted around, and were able to get M81 and M82 in the scope on our hilltop. It was great to just be up there, enjoying the quiet company of a fellow stargazer whose knowledge and familiarity with the sky was deep and rich.

Eventually, after a bit of time up there, I realized that the feet were starting to get a bit too cold. We packed up and went home. I had fun again showing off the glories of our little hilltop. In all we showed off the skies to about 15 people. We do hope they come back on other nights and join us under the stars.

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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