Roll Back the Roof

An In-Town Tourist Feature:
…because Adventure begins in the heart and Travel starts at the end of your own driveway.


The best part of our visit to Perkins Observatory, besides seeing the remarkable delineation between night and day on the moon, was talking to members of the Columbus Astronomical Society.  Simply said, they knew their stuff.  I learned more in one short evening about the science of astronomy than I ever gleaned in a classroom.  Their passion was engaging and they were as eager to share why they owned (and had often even built) a telescope as they were to share their personal views into the universe beyond.

In the classroom, Tom Burns had explained how galaxies produce litters of stars and how a nebula is basically a breeding ground for new planetary life.  Individual enthusiasts on the Observatory’s front steps shared telescope views of these star clusters, the Moon and Mars, as well as helpful advice such as to gaze to the side of an object to fully see its details.  It turns out that “gazing” is not so much a measure of adoration as it is the means to allow ones’ eyes to adjust and truly see.

Through a telescopic lens we spotted the “Terminator” (an astronomical term before it was ever a movie franchise) on the Moon. This distinct line is the clear divider of night and day in a world where lack of oxygen leaves no shades of dawn or dusk.  Our eyes would not be able to adjust to “night” on the Moon as they can and do to earth’s blackness because the Moon’s  is an utter and complete darkness with no light whatsoever.

Our magnified view revealed a lunar landscape with distinct craters, high ledges and vast plains (one smart guy even offered to show me one of the golf balls Neil Armstrong had launched there!). With help we spotted an ice cap on Mars, made of frozen carbon dioxide and The Seven Sisters (Pleiades’s Cluster) -siblings of the same molecular cloud.

It was then time for a trip upstairs to a platform cranked open to reveal the night sky.  Strands of tiny red light bulbs guided us up a metal stairway (normal lighting would have spoiled our eyes’ adjustment to the darkness and ruined our viewing experience).  It was wintry cold, but I forgot temperature in the moment I peered through the monstrous telescope pointed through the opened observatory roof.  Distant moon craters seemed as close as my outstretched finger tips, even though they were at least 36 million miles beyond my reach.

Being the last viewers of the night proved advantageous.  The “telescope guy” (better known as Don Stevens) allowed me to capture a magical moment: the reddened telescope, the opened roof line and the black night beyond.  Dramatic.  After my conversations with the amateur astronomers outside, I understood the internal pull to monitor a distant sky-scape that is changing by the light year.  And peering through the giant telescope, bracketed solidly to the ground yet capturing distant worlds and disclosing them in present tense, defined the Dream.

Highly Recommended: Perkins Observatory Call ahead for reservations (740-363-1257). Public programs most Friday nights. Private group visits available. Click Google Map link below for more information.

Updated from March 18, 2010.

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Columbus Family Travel

5 Comments to Roll Back the Roof

  1. This review was a delight. I haven’t read about an observatory visit before.

  2. I love observatories and the great mysteries of the night sky. One special moment I recall is seeing the sun through a telescope (with a special plate to protect the eye) and seeing a flare of radiation shoot off (not unusual apparently). Makes the world sweem a small place!!

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  4. Suzanne Perazzini

    That must have been so interesting. Space has always held a special fascination for me and I passed it on to my son at a young age. When he was four he could name all the planets and their moons and knew a lot of data about each one. He’s nineteen now and still remembers it all.

  5. Graham: It was an engaging sort of experience with many opportunities for hands on (and “eyes on”) experience.
    Mark: You’ve reminded me of the pinhole boxes we constructed to watch an eclipse of the sun many years ago. I think many of the telescopes include a filter now, because direct viewing of even the moon can be pretty bright.
    Thanks Lydia. I’ve had some great opportunities (and more coming up!). I’m traveling currently but have a couple of new Yosemite posts slated for later this week. Check back!
    Suzanne: It’s a wonderful thing to watch the birth of a passion in one of our children. An early awareness of being part of a limitless space can remove our own limits, I think, and your talented son is a prime example of this.

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