AP NEWS

Looking up

October 1, 2018

GREENWICH — When Ken Hecht gets dismayed by the puddle-deep, tit-for-tat nature of today’s political landscape, he likes to turn his attention to loftier things.Say, Mars.That’s why Hecht and a stalwart band of about 100 like-minded amateur stargazers look forward to gatherings of the Astronomical Society of Greenwich, a 33-year-old organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of the stars and the planets and letting others in on nothing short of the wonders of the universe.“There’s a much, much bigger picture than the narrow, narrow environment that seems to exist now,” said Hecht, the group’s program coordinator.Hecht, who caught the astronomy bug young, still remembers his first childhood pilgrimage to the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Since then, he has wiled away many an hour listening to the respected speakers the society brings to Greenwich and enjoying the sights from the local Bowman Observatory, which is open for public viewing twice a month.In fact, the society started in part to save the once-forlorn observatory, said Anne Burns, the group’s longtime president. Built in the 1940s and owned by the Board of Education, the Bowman was championed by Greenwich teacher Alden Smith, who thought the observatory on the grounds of Julian Curtiss Elementary School would be a welcome addition to town. Later, teacher and future UFO hunter Phil Imbrogno took up the charge, getting permission to put a new telescope in the then-neglected space.In the 1980s, with excitement building over the return of Halley’s Comet, Frank Lawlor, science curator at the Bruce Museum, and others thought if they created a group dedicated to astronomy, maybe they could fix up the observatory in time for the big event.The dedicated bunch set to work. Members happily tossed Starburst candies from their float in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, winning donations to their cause. They pushed for a grant from the Representative Town Meeting and a matching federal community block grant to restore the observatory.“It wasn’t in time for Halley’s Comet, unfortunately,” Burns said.But it was enough to rededicate the renovated observatory and build a solid foundation for the society that is still vital today.The society now holds six annual lectures a year at the Cole Auditorium at the Greenwich Library. All are free and open to the public.Next up at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 21 is Vivien Gornitz, of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, who will present “Alien Seas: The Case for a Wet Mars” at the library.The topic will be “Pluto Revealed: What New Horizons Found” with Jaclyn Avidon, of the Amateur Astronomers’ Association of New York at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 18.“Our main goal is to provide knowledge and a high level of education with top-notch speakers,” said Hecht.In addition, the society and Vice President Rick Bria, whose stunning photography graces the society’s website, invite stargazers to join them for Bowman Observatory Public Nights on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Bria, who was first introduced to the observatory by his science teacher Joseph Wesney in 1974 and helped found the society, said their 16” diameter Ritchey-Chrétien telescope is state of the art and worthy of a major university.The observatory is available for free public viewings from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 3 and Oct. 17 and from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 7 and Nov. 21, clear skies permitting.Hecht is heartened to see astronomers of all ages joining the group.“People are really engaged,” he said. “I see that now with some young kids and teenagers.”That’s just fine with Burns, who remembers becoming interested with astronomy in no small part through her childhood copy of “The Golden Book of Astronomy.”“I still have it, actually,” she said with a laugh.Membership dues for the Astronomical Society of Greenwich are $15 for adults and families, $5 for students. For more information, visit www.astrogreenwich.org or contract greenwichstars@gmail.com.

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