Bystanders behold celestial beauty during Sidewalk Astronomy event

12 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — It was a cold night for star-gazing, but that didn’t stop students and educators of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics from sharing their planetary passion with anyone willing to gaze into a telescope.

Twenty-degree temperatures, gusting winds and winding flurries weren’t nearly enough to deny the aspiring astrophysicists a chance to view Venus, Jupiter, Mars and the waxing crescent moon in front of Paradis Shop ‘N Save on March 26.

“I think the snow might be catching up with us,” commented MSSM student Jack Seguin while helping his instructors set up the 20-inch “Goliath” telescope — one of the largest telescopes in northern Maine.

“Balderdash!” physics instructor and astronomy club adviser Dr. Brian Sullivan replied, and the crew happily continued to assembling the telescope.

Student Bethany Hartley confirmed that all her teachers at MSSM are just as passionate about the subjects they teach, and all who took a moment to stargaze with the astronomy class at Shop ‘N Save quickly learned that Dr. Sullivan and MSSM astronomy instructor/ planetarium director Larry Berz enjoy studying outer space.

Educators and students alike fielded questions about space, smiling and cheering when the clouds broke to reveal the planets and the moon.

Looking into one of the three telescopes the group had set up for bystanders, Dawson Whitten of Caribou uttered a big “Woah!” when he beheld Venus through the eyepiece.

“How does it look?” Berz asked Whitten.

“It looks really tiny,” said the first-grader, squinting hard into the telescope.

Berz explained that it’s tiny because it’s millions upon millions of miles away, and a big smile crept across Whitten’s face.

As Whitten’s mother, Tracy explained, her son had just been to the planetarium earlier that day. Tracy said Dawson and her daughter, Willow, both love learning about space.

While some spectators had heard about the Sidewalk Astronomy event at school or work, others didn’t know the stargazing was taking place until walking into Shop ‘N Save, like Kristi Bell and her son, Chandler.

“I had no idea that this was going on, but it’s exciting,” Kristi said. She and Chandler were waiting out the clouds despite the chilly temperatures to catch a telescopic glimpse of the planets.

Sidewalk Astronomy drew about 25 curious spectators between 6 and 8 p.m., and it won’t be the last opportunity for planetary viewing; though dates have yet to be determined, MSSM officials are planning to orchestrate another Sidewalk Astronomy event in the near future.

Sullivan said some of his students were so enthusiastic about the viewing event that they started to forget about the cold.

For others, who couldn’t shake the biting wind’s sting, there was plenty of free hot chocolate to chase away the chill.

Around 7:30 p.m., with a half-hour left for the event, the sky clouds dissipated for some excellent un-obstructed stargazing.

“We had some very good viewing of the moon, Venus, Jupiter and Mars,” Sullivan said.

While the planets are always intriguing through a telescope, planetary viewing for Venus, Jupiter and Mars is as simple as looking up into the March sky..

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