Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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100 nights continues...
March 4, 2009

Yup, it'll be clear, so join us at 8:30. It will be very cold, so wear extra layers. Standing outside is colder than you might think. We will meet at the usual place, and will retreat to the hilltop shortly after we start.


OK, so I have been away from this blog for a bit. But there have been all sorts of good things. February 23, the conjunction of Saturn and Comet Lulin was a big success. We had about 80 people show up over the night. The lights of Columbia Fields were driving us to distraction, staying on for not apparent reason other than to spend their endowment funds. I guess someone had to keep the economy going. Might as well be them for spending so wantonly.

Some left before the lights mere turned off and we could finally see the comet. But, after about 20 minutes, I was able to find it. Andre Stevens was there with his scope, as well as Howard Fink with a great image of Saturn. Bruce Kamiat showed up with binoculars, and Elvin Garcia was there with a great tool: an iPod with a sky chart. We had a new amateur astronomer, Jay Horowitz, who lugged a very heavy 8. Dobsonian up the hill. Jay, put it on a cart..

It was a great group. The comet, however, was a bit unforgiving. It was dim and diffuse in the telescope, and various people were less than maximally excited about its lack of tail and non-green color. Oh well, we are Urban Astronomers. We takes whats we's gets. (Speaking of which, thanks Connie for bringing up pizza. What a doll.)

The best part came as the evening wore on. I was able to watch the comet move with respect to the stars. Every time I looked, I had to adjust the field to see it anew. It was moving extremely fast against the background sky, and I was completely impressed by just how much sky it covered. What an amazing sight. you just had to be patient and watch it over time.

At the outset, I tried to show off some of the night sky, and all of us had great images of Saturn. It was excellent in our telescopes. The moons could be seen to be moving slowly, over the whole night. Howard had the best and larges image of all. Hats off to Howard.

As always, the best are the sighs of delights and the wow's and the ooh's and aah's at seeing Saturn for the first time. It is always an amazing way to spend the evening. The crowd went away having seen some sights, and I need to thank Rosie and Jose for helping me put up signs. And thanks to Linda and Jenn for putting it up on the Parks website. What great publicity, and a true showing.

Well, the evening passed, and Wednesday night the 25th was clear too, so out I went, but this time I stayed down on the street. There were about 40 passersby, and Amy gave me a big hand. She was great at drawing a crowd. Always under the streetlights, I get a restricted view of the sky. But it always allows a good chat or two with the neighbors. And chat we did. There were many people out and about. Jeff came by, carrying bags.

In general, it is clear that there is a need, a true need, to see the sky. And we are not talking a marketing need created by a business interest trying to sell soap by making the brand 'needed'. This need is fundamental to us as humans. The loss of contact with the night sky only means that when people are presented with it again, they get to chatting. There is nothing more fundamental than conversation under the night sky. 120 people looked through telescopes in my neighborhod in 2 days. That is simply amazing. Then they send me emails telling me they had a great time, and when can they come again.

I am happy to be the guy who helps people to see it. It is important, these days especially, to find the things in life that make us feel in ouch with our deepest selves. When the world is flying apart, what better way to rebuild our community and our friendships with a bit of looking up and warm, quiet friendship. And it is all free: the best medicine of all.

I hope you'll join us out there.

Oh, and the Uptown Planetarium is starting this weekend with my first talk on .Life in the Universe. Is there anybody out there?.


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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