Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Night 23 of 100: Mercury Unveiled...
April 16, 2009

Well, we did it! Andre emailed me saying he was at the Fields at 7pm. I was buzzing up there as fast as I could. Donna and Ashley were getting ready for their upcoming concert. I zipped out of home with the 6" under my arm, and grabbed the ubiquitous gypsy cab in our 'hood. When I arrived, the fields wee filled with kids and families playing soccer. Andre hailed me from his car, his two dogs in the back seat.

So in we went. We set up just inside the entrance. People were curious. It was our first major foray into the Latino world in our neighborhood. It was clear that this was many people's first time seeing a telescope. But I asked for help finding Mercury as the Sun set. As soon as it went below the Palisades, we made our hunt. For the next thirty minutes, we watched planes on the horizon, which look eerily on fire through a telescope, and we tried to get our bearings. The people who helped were so kind and so helpful and hopeful, that I really wanted them all to stick around to see it. But te process took a bit long for some, and they bid their good evenings. But one dieshard family helped me find it for almost an hour. They were great. It became a significant thing, and I am humbled that they took ther time and gave me a hand. Half of the helpers spoke no English, and my Spanish should be better: "Es el planeto Mercur!" was all I could get out. That was enough. We were looking for the fleeting messenger. During it all Jordan Kushner showed up with his binocs.

At about 7:45, Mercury appeared in my finderscope. By this time, we had about 20 people around us, all trying to find it naked eye. We had enlisted a couple of families and a few tired socer players.

When I found it, it was only visible in the scope, but Jordan and Andre persevered and made it happen too in their instruments. Andre was particularly happy with it. We saw little Mercury in its gibbous phase. The size was just visible using a Barlow and an 8mm eyepiece. But there it was. Now everyone got a turn.

The hunt for the elusive planet was better than the actual viewing of course. But it ended up being a treasure of an evening. Soon after, Mercury became easily visible naked-eye, and other stars stared popping out. Orion, Gemini, Perseus, Cassiopiea, Leo. And I had to show Saturn off to the wating crowd. They all enjoyed it thoroughly. There was one kid who stayed through the event up to seeing Saturn. He was a good helper, and I hope to see him again.

The sky was clear. Brutally clear. It was the sky we so desperately wanted on the 3rd, but never got. That night was grand, but if tonight's sky was our sky that night, it would have been talked about for years. I was able to find numerous objects, and plowed around the sky. Near the end, we had 4 men whe were quite interested, and hung around for a while. I hope that they get a chance to look up online what I showed them in the scope: the doubre cluster of Perseus, my perennial favorite.

Soon, we packed up and made it a night. The sky is still clear out, even as I write this. Tomorrow looks to be grand as well. Saturday well be the 8" scope day at the top of the hill. The 40 or so people who stuck with us and moved around us, and helped find Mercury had an evening that I hope I properly honored, as I try to remember those early nights at the telescope in my youth. That is what I try to keep in the front of my mind as I see so many people who have never had the privileges I have had. I just hope I share it well. Judging by the hangers-on and their sense of wonder at the event, that I went a bit towards that end.

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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