Lake Afton Public Observatory

Saturn
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Last week I read Carl Sagan’s new book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, which kindled my interest in astronomy. I plan to write a review of Carl’s book for The Rhetoric in the next few days.

I picked up a brochure at WSU this week about the Lake Afton Public Observatory. One night each month photographers can bring their cameras and shoot celestial bodies and phenomena using the huge telescope. I though it would be fun to take the girls to see what the observatory was like before I take my camera in a few weeks. We all went tonight and had a blast! They pointed the 16″ telescope toward the relatively small rectangle of night sky visible through a giant slit in the observatory dome. The first object we saw was the Orion Nebula, followed by Betelgeuse (pronounced beetlejuice), Saturn, and the craters of the moon.

The two staff persons at the observatory were excellent! They thoroughly explained what we were viewing and competently answered all our questions. While other visitors were looking at the moon through the telescope I did a self-paced presentation at one of the several computers in the exhibit. In the middle of the presentation one of the staff members approached me and asked if I had any questions. We discussed light pollution, nebulas, and native American astronomers and culture. He then took me outside and gave me a personal tour of the night sky. His knowledge of and enthusiasm for the heavens was inspiring. My appreciation for the cosmos was increased tonight by orders of magnitude. It was a night I will not soon forget.

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