Category Archives: Perkins Observatory

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

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Starry Nights

Not even a ceiling could block our view of the night sky at Perkins Observatory in Delaware, Ohio.  Stars, artfully carved into the entryway ceiling were certainly more appropriate than swirls of plaster, although one could make a case for those as a rendering of our Milky Way galaxy, I suppose.

We pulled into the Perkins Observatory parking lot near darkness on a Friday night.  Volunteers from the Columbus Astronomy Society directed us to parking spaces as they simultaneously set up monster telescopes along the entrance walkway.

Inside we glanced into an interactive curio shop of a room burgeoning with all things astronomical.   A back hallway revealed the Blue Moon Cafe as well as stairways leading in both the customary directions (that would be “up” and “down”).  To take the upstairs route required completion of the upcoming orientation session and an escort, so we headed for the basement first.

Meteorite artifacts, telescopes and telescope mirrors, as well as displays on both the elements of space and man’s efforts to define and understand them, made for an interesting wander.  Windowed doors allowed us to peek into the mirror and vacuum chamber labs where custom telescopes are devised and made.

Our anticipation to peer through a telescopic lens grew by the moment.  And after a science pep talk and orientation by King “astro-nerd” Tom Burns, we were ready to turn out the lights and get a closeup view of stars and planets that were millions of miles away.

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.

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Columbus Things To Do

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Lights Out, Stars On

To fully see what’s going on, it’s lights out at Perkins Observatory.  And once the lights are dimmed, any light source such as a cell phone or camera flash is strictly taboo, garnering the same kind of disapproving glare as singing aloud with your mp3 player at the gym might bring.  Our pupils react almost immediately to light, dilating in darkness and contracting with light.  The flicker from one person’s text message could be enough to spoil another enthusiast’s viewing experience —and you won’t want to be the one blinding another to their pristine view of the Pleiades Cluster!

We were forewarned by self-proclaimed “Astro-Nerd” Tom Burns about the importance of maintaining the darkness and the wisdom of walking slowly and counting steps.  He reminded us that ambulance lights can really mess up one’s telescopic view of Mars!  He worked the crowd like a pro during an informative and utterly entertaining orientation with an enthusiasm that added a showmanship flair to the science of astronomy.

More on our Perkins Observatory tour to come…

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.

View Perkins Observatory in a larger map

Columbus Family Travel

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