The New York Association of Amateur Astronomers (AAA) descended on Evergreens Cemetery on Friday, September 17 for their annual Fall Starfest. The members set up their telescopes near the public house where they shared their views of celestial bodies in the sky that night, particularly Jupiter and Saturn, the largest of the outer planets.
It wasn’t the first time the association has held a stargazing event at the cemetery, a National Historic Landmark comprised of 255 acres of gently rolling hills. For the budding astronomer, the location offers “unobstructed views of an open area, free of local lighting glare, where the majority of the urban night sky can be seen.”
Kelly Elivo, president of marketing for the association, expressed her excitement about the venue for the event. “We want to be respectful of the history of this monument and at the same time enjoy it. There aren’t many places like this in New York.
“You will be able to see the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter. And the moon itself will also come out, and it’s in a really nice phase right now,” Rori Baldari, a member of the Association of Amateur Astronomers for 12 years, told the Bushwick Daily. The moon was in its waxing gibbous phase with 87% illumination.
As a member of the nonprofit organization, Baldari has done public outreach and stargazing in New York’s five boroughs. “No one should pay to see the beauty of the Universe, so almost all of our events are free and open to the public,” she said. “The club’s mission is to promote awareness of the science of astronomy in an urban environment to both highlight its inspirational and cultural value.”
The New York Association of Amateur Astronomers was founded in 1927, and according to its recently revamped website, the organization sponsors lectures at the American Museum of Natural History, offers affordable astronomy classes to members, and has a regularly updated news journal called “Eyepiece”. The site also lists all of the events planned by the Association throughout the city, such as this past stargazing event in Bushwick at the Dekalb Library.
At the event was Bart Fried, the Association’s Executive Vice President, who could be found gazing through his telescope. Both were a popular attraction, with people taking turns to gaze upwards through the ‘old ‘scope’, which was built in 1903 according to Fried.
“I tried to buy it for 30 years from this guy who retired to Maine,” Fried said. “I called him about every five years.” Then a friend in New York told him about a telescope at an auction in Pennsylvania. It was only after he won it that Fried realized it was the same telescope, auctioned off because its owner had died. “I offered him way more money than I paid at the auction,” Fried continued with a laugh.
“We’re New York astronomers,” Fried said. “Nearly 95% of our members live in the city across the five boroughs, and we have about 650 members right now, and it’s slowly growing.”
Fried told the Bushwick Daily that he hopes more people realize that urban astronomy is doable. “You can do astronomy in town. Even small children can study astronomy,” he said. “So if they have a little telescope, they can study the moon. They can see the larger planets when they’re up. They can study double stars and variable stars. I live in Queens and I observe all the time from my garden and there are literally several hundred objects that you can see from New York.
“And then when you get the chance, you go to a dark site and you can see more of it,” Fried continued. While light pollution has certainly hampered astronomical observations for city dwellers, there are ways to maximize night sky visibility with little planning. Relatively dark areas work best, but rooftops work just as well if you live in a congested area. The higher, the better.
As people looked through telescopes, David Kiefer, an astronomy class instructor, gave a lecture on possible night sights among other astronomical objects, which included constellations, asterisms (a small group of stars often found in constellations), signs of the zodiac, the sun and galaxies. People sat on the grass or on lounge chairs to watch.
The night’s events also included a raffle which had several prizes, including a telescope, and music was provided by Dazzle Ships. The registration and raffle tables were managed by Elivo.
The idea of using cemeteries as community recreational space is not a new concept. In the 18th and 19th centuries, cemeteries were built not only as “places of beauty, memory and worship”, but as public parks. Fall Starfest is just one example of Evergreens Cemetery’s commitment to this idea.
To join the Association of Amateur Astronomers and participate in the conferences, courses and events it offers, you can register here.
Editor’s Note: Minor typographical errors corrected (hyperlinks, spelling, and citation mistakenly removed).
All photos by Allie Herrera.
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