Ever since the dawn of man, humans have looked skyward and wondered what's up there.
People still do, except now they can look more closely. Around New England, there are more than three dozen clubs catering to stargazing, according to www.astronomyclubs.com, but how many amateur astrologers there are is, rather fittingly, up in the air.
"It's really hard to tell how many people are into astronomy, but the numbers do pick up around major events," said Stuart Goldman, associate editor of Cambridge-based Sky and Telescope magazine, referring to comets, eclipses, and the occasional orbital proximity of planets such as Mars. "When you get those celestial boosts, a lot of people show up at observatories."
Another boost: It was 400 years ago that Galileo trained his new invention, the telescope, toward the night sky. In this, officially the International Year of Astronomy 2009, public stargazing opportunities abound in the region. Admission to most of the following observatories is free, with donations accepted. Some have regularly scheduled viewing nights. Check websites or call for current dates and times, and if you visit in winter, dress warmly since most are outdoors.
3 Vestal St., Nantucket, www.mmo.org, 508-228-9273.
The Judson B. Coit Memorial Observatory, on the roof of the Boston University College of Arts & Sciences building, is used for undergraduate and graduate study, public viewing, and Boston University Astronomical Society projects. Viewings are every clear Wednesday night. Equipment includes a 10-inch Cassegrain type reflecting telescope with a 4-inch refractor mounted as a guide scope.
725 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, www.bu.edu/astronomy/facilities/observatory.html, 617-353-2630.
The Hopkins Observatory at Williams College in Williamstown is the oldest existing astronomical observatory in the United States. Located atop the Thompson Physics and Astronomy Laboratory, it includes a 24-inch Cassegrain telescope. A 14-inch Celestron telescope on a Losmandy mount and a 10-inch Meade telescope are also located on the science center roof, each in separate domes.
33 Lab Campus Drive, Williams College, Williamstown, www.hopkinsobservatory.williams.edu, 413-597-2105.
182 Bayberry Lane, Westport, www.was-ct.org, 203-227-0925.
The Big Eye, as the Boothe Memorial Astronomical Society Observatory telescope is known, was completed in 1960, after a local group of pro and amateur astronomers formed the Stratford club in 1953. It is run by amateurs, who also take scopes to schools and civic groups in an outreach program. Gear at the observatory includes a 16-inch f/15 Cassegrain and four-inch Unitron Refractor.
Boothe Memorial Park, Main Street, Stratford, Conn., www.bmas.org, 203-375-9673.
Located on the campus of New Milford High School, the John J. McCarthy Observatory was built in 2000, funded by private donations, and has become a huge regional astronomical resource, with some 13,000 visitors since it opened, including school, scout, and church group members. Equipment includes three telescopes, a weather station, a film camera, video cameras, CCD cameras, color filter wheels, an adaptive optics unit, a spectrograph, and other research devices. To honor Galileo, the observatory is building a scale-model solar system that will go throughout the town, each planet scaled in exact size and distance to a 6-foot sun at the observatory.
388 Danbury Road, New Milford, Conn., www.mccarthyobservatory.org, 860-354-1595.
210 Doyle Ave., Providence, www.brown.edu/Departments/Physics/Ladd, 401-863-2323.
Another Brown professor, Dr. Charles Smiley, founded the Amateur Astronomical Society of Rhode Island, which became Skyscrapers Inc., which owns Seagrave Memorial Observatory deep in the Scituate woods. The silo-shaped dome, built in 1914, boasts impressive star-gazing power with a historic 8 1/4-inch Alvan Clark refractor, a 12-inch Patton reflector, and 16-inch and 12-inch Meade computer-controlled Schmidt-Cassegrain scopes, in addition to portable scopes.
47 Peeptoad Road, North Scituate, www.theskyscrapers.org, 401-884-1513.
When Ninigret Park was a Navy auxiliary field, planes used to blast off into the sky, making it somewhat fitting that Ninigret is now home to Frosty Drew Observatory. Located near South County beaches, the observatory located in this now wildlife refuge gets more heavily used in summer months, when visitors on Friday nights visit the dome to check the skies through the observatory's workhorse piece, a 16-inch Meade Schmidt Cassegrain.
Ninigret Park, Route 1, Charlestown, www.frostydrew.org.
3 Institute Drive, Concord, www.starhop.com, 603-271-7827.
Standing outside in the middle of the night in a wind-swept field is a great way to observe the stars at the University of New Hampshire observatory, which hosts public viewings the first and third Saturday of the month, and on special occasions.
DeMerritt Hall, Durham, www.physics.unh.edu/observa tory, 603-862-3996.
Route 35, Kennebunk, www.asnne.org.
The Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium and Observatory is located in one of the oldest buildings on the University of Maine campus, built in 1900 when it was Maine State College. The observatory is open for public viewing on clear Friday and Saturday nights from September to April. The planetarium can produce a 20-foot model of the night sky for up to 45 visitors per showing.
University of Maine, 5781 Wingate Hall, Orono, www.gal axymaine.com, 207-581-1348.
Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, was interested in astronomy, and dreamed of having his own observatory. So when he built his Georgian mansion in 1905 in Manchester, he later added the Hildene Observatory, which boasts an original six-inch Brashear achromatic scope. It is open daily as part of the tour of the Lincoln home and is used for night viewing by the public on a limited basis for special celestial events.
1005 Hildene Road, Manchester, www.hildene.org/hac, 800-578-1788, 802-362-1788.
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at PKandarian@aol.com.