City Pulse

By Pamela L. Berman

Having successfully managed to dodge all predominantly left-brain classes throughout my multi-university career, I was finally confronted with the dreaded reality of having to satisfy my one and only math/science credit. Fortunately, the choice would be fairly painless.

I had loved astronomy since I was an Indiana fourth-grader, privileged to be in an advanced curriculum with the exceptional Miss Josephson, who filled her classroom with inviting Victorian armchairs and seductively lit fringed lamps…and her ten-year-olds’ minds with fine art, music, literature and the stars…along with the encouragement to write stories and pursue extraordinary lives. I still remember my parents’ gift of my exciting new telescope and standing outside on clear crisp nights, lost in my dreams and the twinkling, ink blue skies.

So what better way to welcome in the summer on its solstice than to join the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York (“AAA”) on the High Line this past Tuesday night for its weekly series Stargazing on the High Line?

For those who have already visited the High Line, you know its history as a discontinued railroad track, and how a determined group of benefactors and friends repurposed it into a lovely, elevated park and walkway – with a hotel and restaurants and art and myriad species of plants and flowers – that currently stretches from Gansevoort Street to West 30th. But did you know about all its events and activities to pursue? I did not!

I mean, how can you not constantly marvel at New York? No matter how many years you live here, or how busy you get, when you take the time to explore, there is always something new under the sun – or moon – to do in New York City. So many opportunities for growth and fun and entertainment and, remarkably, so many of them for free! – to remind us all that our spectacular city remains the greatest in the world. And at this time of year especially, New York is like one great big summer camp for children and adults alike!

I confess at first, however, the High Line seemed an unlikely spot to view the night sky, with all the surrounding lights of commerce and streetlamps. So if you’re serious about stargazing, this is probably not the place. But if you want to socialize with the truly nice, dedicated members of the AAA, who share their telescopes, their knowledge and their love of astronomy with their regular followers and the streams of delighted passersby who chance upon this unique happening, then this is the place to be every Tuesday night at dusk from April through October (weather and sky conditions permitting). It is really quite a party, and a great place to bring your friends and family. Actually, never mind all that… Most importantly, how often do you get the chance to murmur, “Meet me at dusk”? I don’t know about you, but that alone gives me a romantic frisson worthy of D. H. Lawrence or Jane Austen.

While I was told that there is not a lot to see in the sky at this time of the year, we still managed to identify various stars – including Arcturus (“the brightest star in the northern hemisphere and the fourth brightest star in the night sky“) and Vega (“the fifth brightest star in the night sky and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus“) – with the naked eye.

The main fun, though, is with the telescopes, each focused on multiple views of Saturn and its rings. I have to say that it is quite a “Wow” moment when you first see that spaceship-like planet, even if appearing somewhat miniscule due to the smaller lenses of these more portable, though still weighty, fine telescopes – but it’s dreamlike, nonetheless.

Chatting with AAA president Richard Rosenberg, financial secretary Joe Delfausse, and club member Rori Baldari and others, is the real kick. From disparate backgrounds and careers, all the members have such passion for astronomy (and appreciation for their hosts at the High Line) for many of the same reasons: they love how viewing the heavens seems to put the world and the lives of human beings into perspective. These far-away planets and moons and brightly burning gasses and possible civilizations make one’s worries in the big city often feel almost insignificant in the greater scheme of the universe. At least for a few moments on a warm summer evening, anyway.

Mr. Delfausse, whose passion for the stars and planets, and his devotion to share that passion with the public, is so great that he previously spent many years setting up his telescope in front of a subway stop in Park Slope so that he could show Saturn to all who emerged! “I am curious about things and have a thirst for knowledge,” he said. “I love talking with people, and we are such a tiny part of what’s up there. Looking through a telescope is just an awesome experience.”

Well, who couldn’t use a little awe and a refreshing view of the world from time to time? Indeed, a refreshing view of the world shared with interesting, refreshing people … on a beautiful evening, in a beautiful setting, in a beautiful city.

For more information on the many events and activities of the High Line, and the Amateur Astronomers Association (be sure to catch them on different nights of the week in various locations throughout the boroughs), please visit their websites at:

http://www.thehighline.org/
http://www.aaa.org/home/

Originally published June 2011
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