November 22, 2006

Stars In Our Eyes . . . Soon

Nothing but love for the heavens above. That's what the volunteers and members of The Montauk Observatory, Inc. evince. This week they prepared to share the ardor for observing the night sky with the community and even the county at large, celebrating the delivery of a 20-inch professional grade Meade telescope that will be housed at the future site of an observatory at Theodore Roosevelt County Park in Montauk.

According to Rich Jorgensen, a senior vice president with Meade Instruments, the telescope is the first of its kind deployed by the company in the United States. In a statement distributed last week, Jorgensen said, "The new 20-inch is a revolutionary design that will satisfy both professional and amateur astronomers alike. We are delighted to deliver our first one to a public facility, so everyone can enjoy it."

The telescope will serve as a cornerstone for an astronomical observatory that some day will use astrophotography and the Internet to make images available to star gazers all over. Eventually, even the scope itself will be capable of remote operation, meaning, an astronomer off-site could work the instrument. Additionally, a plasma screen TV and viewing area will give groups the chance to view the images the telescope gathers. At the same time, the pictures can be broadcast via the Internet.

Legislator Jay Schneiderman was among a cadre of astronomy buffs who spearheaded the move toward creating the observatory. "Today we open a window into the universe from our own backyard. We now have the means for every child and adult to gaze into the heavens and marvel at the beauty and vastness of space," he said on Monday.

Last year, Schneiderman sponsored a bill establishing Theodore Roosevelt Park as the first Dark Sky Park in the state. His efforts to garner funds for the telescope were thwarted by County Executive Steve Levy, however. He nixed the proposal and Schneiderman's colleagues on the legislature failed to vote to override the veto.

From there, supporters formed The Montauk Observatory Project to raise money for the 'scope as well the necessary ancillary structure to shelter the tool and equipment.

The telescope is the first step in a two-phase project the organization envisions. The first phase will comprise the construction of a freestanding observatory building, designed to reflect the historic architecture of Third House. Phase Two involves the renovation of a cabin already on-site. It will provide a meeting space for those visiting the observatory.

Back when the idea of an observatory first surfaced, Susan Harder of the Dark Sky Society pointed out that the observatory will make sense for the county, offering great education opportunities, as well as complement programs in the Vanderbilt planetarium and at island colleges.

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