A night on the moon at the UMass Dartmouth observatory

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By Brian Harris, Staff Writer

Last Saturday I went to the moon.  Well, not actually.  But I came about as close as I’ll probably ever get.

October 28th was the open house for the UMass Dartmouth observatory.

You may know the observatory as that odd dome shaped building to the right of the front campus entrance.  Many I talked to before the event had either never been, or had never even seen it.  As it seems, they didn’t know what they were missing.

“This Fall marks the 25th anniversary of the observatory’s first open house for the public,” Professor of Physics Alan Hirshfeld told me through an e-mail interview.

So, for around 25 years now, families and the student body alike have made the trek over for a night of star gazing.  For many, it seems to have become a tradition to come visit the free event, while for others it becomes more of a novelty event.

Unfortunately, Saturday wasn’t really a perfect night for an event like this.  Anyone who was out then can attest to the weather not exactly being up to the task of looking at the sky.

Namely, it was incredibly foggy.  One couldn’t even really see any stars without the use of a telescope that night to be honest.  Still, Hirshfeld and company pressed on.

One of the many things that struck me about the event were the amount of families.  That’s not to say it was too busy an event, while it got a decent reception it certainly wasn’t packed.

But, of the attendees, I’d say over half were families, with small kids to boot.  The combination of enthusiasm by Hirshfeld and the subject matter seems to make for great family fare.  But it’s definitely not just for the younger audience.

Among the crowd was Jonathan Pierre-Louis, a physics major here at UMass Dartmouth.

Along with Jon, there were plenty of other UMass D students at the event.  They too seemed captivated by the short but sweet goings on.  When asked about the 25th anniversary, Jon replied with: “[that’s] pretty cool, it is pretty impressive.”  But, of course, no one’s enthusiasm matched Hirshfeld’s.

Guiding us through not only the science of the open house, but what exactly we were looking at, Hirshfeld very clearly has a passion for the subject.  “It is a unique educational experience for community individuals and families to learn more about astronomy, the night sky, the universe, and amazing astronomical discoveries that have recently been made,” said Hershfeld of the event.

And I’ll be honest, for me personally I’ve never been much of an astronomy guy.  The high school variant is the only class that I’ve ever fallen asleep to.

But I won’t lie, seeing the moon up close and personal through the telescope like that was a cool experience.

Obviously, it’s something I’ve seen before through pictures, videos and the like, but seeing it with your own eyes, just shy of what astronauts must see, is kind of amazing.  Especially considering it’s a free event.

For a 25-year-old establishment, Hirshfeld and the team at UMass Dartmouth really have something here with this observatory.  I think they may have won me over for a repeat visit in the future.

Photo Courtesy: Brian Harris

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