Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Saturday, September 19, an exciting night of stargazing!
September 21, 2009

We started off in the afternoon with some of the clearest, cloudless skies that New York has seen in a long time. After my lecture on Gamma-ray and X-ray astronomy at the library, Donna and I grabbed a nice brunch at Garden Cafe. We sat and chatted outdoors as the sky began to take on evening hues. After our yummy nibble at what basically passes for our living room, I then packed up the scope and made my way to Payson and Beak Streets.

When I arrived there was one lone woman there waiting. Others had come from Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, but Neleedi had come here from Germany. Well, not really directly, but she had heard that this was the thing to do in Manhattan on a Saturday night. Boy was she ever right.

After waiting a few minutes, others showed, including Rob Mahoney, and a wonderful family. One of the sons had color commentary all the way up to the top .stupid crickets. .jumping skunks. .I’ll trade you my telescope. Great kid. Rob and I felt like we were pack leaders for some Cub Scouts group. Making our way up to the top in near complete darkness, the small crowd of 10 or people walked into the glowing tree-lined darkness. Heightening our senses, Rob and I found a patch of wild ginseng along the route.

At the top, we were greeted by a gorgeous open sky, unfettered with clouds. As I got started in my setup, Rob had his Galileoscope out and ready in no time, showing off Jupiter. By the time I had set up, about 10 more people had arrived. The word was out, this was the place to be at night. I started off with Alcor and Mizar, just because I had synced the scope to that location. But as te line grow to look through the telescope, I slewed to the classics. Next I went to Albireo, then on to M13. This glob was extremely good, even not using the best eyepiece. We could easily make out individual stars in the cluster. After this while, Jupiter finally rolled into view out of the trees.

Jupiter was quite a sight. The Great Red Spot was clearly visible across the meridian. And wit only two of the Galilean satellites in view, the other two were in eclipse. Just then, we saw the shadow of Io right over the GRS. This was quite intriguing and beautiful. One day I will get some sort of camera, but for now, it is all visual. I noticed an odd smudge to the West of the GRS. It was a bit darker than the rest of the GRS, and had a higher contrast than the equatorial bands in which it resided.

Not really sure of what I was looking at, I asked others to take a look. They were seeing what I was seeing. It was a slightly darker elongated area right there. This seemed like something really important, and in light of the fact that there was a Jovian impact back in August, it seemed like I was getting the real deal here. A new IMPACT! Given that it just rotated into view recently, if it were an impact, I would have to be seeing it for the first time right there, right then. This was it! A major discovery!

So, I started calling people nationwide. Advisors from college and grad school, classmates who now are faculty. Everyone. I had people at the site calling people trying to find the proper way to report it. I reached Nancy Chanover, Lyle Huber, Kurt Anderson, Steve Kipp. They all gave me their best help. Steve found on the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory where I should go to report. Lyle suggested I call Nancy, but her machine picked up. Kurt also suggested calling her, but said he would drop a note to Apache Point Observatory. Even one of the people who showed up got his father on the phone. He and I chatted about the website entry form for a discovery. He sent it to me and I wrote it up and sent it off. Steve thought by my description that it was indeed an impact. Kurt seemed to think so too, but his experience in these matters led him to be wary.

As I was writing, the anomaly was rotating out of view. But as it did so, it became clearer and more distinct. It became darker, and more circular. At the same time, Io was peeking out from its transit, and the shadow raced across. Hoping to get the word out so that Hawaiian observers could get a glimpse, if it was an impact, I raced to get it done.

Nancy, however, burst our bubble. She found on an amateur website that this was observed on September 5th, and is associated with a new storm. It is quite distinct, and Nancy didn’t know of anyone who was looking at it, so she let us know that a student at NMSU had time at Apache Point to obverse the GRS next week, and would fold it into the observing run. She is getting ready for the upcoming LCROSS impact, with which she is working intensely on, and so as a special note, I popped her on speaker on my blackberry and we chatted briefly about the LCROSS mission and her upcoming work on it.

In all, we had about 45 people come up to the hilltop on that night, and it was quite exciting, even though we might not have gotten a new discovery, we learned a lot about the process, and now know what to do in the future.

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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