Stargazers gather in Northwest Park
By Kim Gorman - ReminderNews
Windsor - posted Thu., Dec. 1, 2011
The stars were shining brightly on the night of Saturday, Nov. 26, at Northwest Park, as families and friends gathered to observe Jupiter and the Orion Nebula using telescopes during “A Night with the Stars.”
Bob Horton, astronomy lab manager at Brown University, guided participants through the viewing process.
To the naked eye, Jupiter looked like a brilliant star. Through a high-tech tracking telescope, observers were able to see its four moons and two equatorial belts. On the bottom belt was a pale, oval-shaped gap which Horton described as a “monstrous storm” several times the size of Earth that has been raging on the planet for at least 400 years. Jupiter, he noted, appears as the second-brightest planet in our galaxy, with Venus being the first.
Later in the evening, the Orion Nebula appeared. According to Horton, a nebula is a collapsing cloud of dust and gas that is the birthplace of a star. Though nebulas reveal some secrets about how stars and planets are formed, much about them still remains a mystery. “Our galaxy has stars, star clusters, planets and nebula, but that represents only about 4 percent of the universe,” said Horton. “The rest is dark energy and dark matter. We don’t know what it is - it’s unknown, only a small percentage of what’s real.”
For the children in attendance, the evening offered an opportunity to have fun hanging out with friends and siblings under the night sky while learning about the universe. “It’s good to get kids outside,” said Windsor resident Kathy Riley, “because they spend so much time inside.”
Christina, an elementary student who came to the event with several friends, summed up her experience this way: “I saw Jupiter… It was cool.”
The astronomy program at Northwest Park is the first in recent memory, according to park manager Ford Parker. Its purpose is to introduce the science of astronomy to the public. Tom DeShais, environmental educator at the park, said they that another astronomy night will be planned for late December, when the cold, clear nights provide prime conditions for observing the stars and planets.
For more information on the next “Night with the Stars,” visit www.northwestpark.org or call 860-285-1886.