Astronomy from the sidewalks of New York

Spotted via Bad Astronomy, this New York Times article:
While Times Square is not known for star gazing — the celestial kind, that is — and few people would normally venture onto a pitch-black ball field in Inwood to see the constellations, two unrelated, if not unlikely, projects hope to turn the city’s night eyes skyward.

Jason Kendall, an amateur astronomer, and Katja Aglert, a Swedish installation artist, want to turn out the lights in different parts of Manhattan and, weather permitting, illuminate the night sky.

“How can you appreciate something you’ve never seen?” said Mr. Kendall, 41. “You’ll never get anyone to make the sky dark until you show them how beautiful it can be.”

“Hey!” Mr. Kendall said. “You wanna see Saturn?”

Wsam tentatively peered through Mr. Kendall’s telescope.

“I don’t believe it!” he exclaimed. “Saturn really does have a ring.”

I did a double-take when I saw the name of the name of the amateur astronomer - Jason Kendall - someone I know from work! He worked for our department as a TA, even though he was working on a degree in Drama at the time (he already had a Master's in astronomy from another institution). He was always great to work with at the public viewing nights and he taught me how to find the Ring Nebula in under a minute just by star-hopping in the constellation Lyra (once you know what you're looking for, it's actually pretty easy to find). I'm not at all surprised to see him doing something like this.

This article also reminded me of my one attempt to see something naked-eye from the middle of Manhattan when I was there in 2006. Now granted, it was a very hot and humid night and I was standing outside Radio City Music Hall, but the only thing I could pick out was Jupiter.

I also highlighted the exchange from the end of the article because I've found that showing someone Saturn in a telescope for the first time will almost always bring the same reaction. And after the initial reaction you get the "it looks fake!" or "it looks like a picture!" comments. Or "you're just hanging something off the end of the telescope" - said in jest. I always laugh and assure people that they really are looking at Saturn. It will be interesting to see the reactions when we're looking at it later this year and there are almost no rings to see.

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