By Dr. Ginger Gabriel – Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
For the last two years we’ve all been looking downward on snow to be shoveled and potholes to be filled and looking inward on viruses to be conquered, hand washing techniques to be perfected and how to wear a mask.
Neighbors, it’s time to look up!
Step outside anytime day or night. Look up and you’re bound to see a world filled with limitless wonders: majestic rainbows, dramatic cloud formations, heart thumping sunsets, intricacies of constellations, planets and stars. If you know when and where to look, you can even view an aurora borealis from our own mountain. (Hint: look north at 3 a.m.)
To truly enjoy these wonders is to ask questions and experience the science of where these wonders come from and how they are formed. The Mountain Skies Astronomical Society (MSAS) is waiting for you. Clear skies will come again. Get ready to name the stars!!
Beginning May 13, the Astronomy Village will offer tours and scheduled programs on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (weather permitting). If in doubt, call ahead and make a reservation.
Currently scheduled for May 13 is an introduction to the Robert Brownlee observatory. The first thing you notice when you approach the Village is this observatory. Weather permitting, you will see a demonstration of some of its functions such as awesome 360-degree rotation of the 22-foot dome.
An observatory is a place where telescopes are used to view the sky, so the dome of an observatory opens to observe celestial objects.
This is the only custom-built Robert Brownlee observatory in Southern California. This is a research-grade telescope. The telescope’s 17.2-inch-diameter f/8 Richey-Chretien, in particular, has a massive 102-mm front corrector plate that allows for detailed viewing.
Saturday’s instruction program will be on the use of telescopes and binoculars. You will learn how to locate celestial objects. This will include practical hands-on experience and information, cleaning, adjustments, accessories and navigation techniques. (Remember the telescope you bought the family for Christmas years ago? You might be able to finally learn how it should have worked.) This program will also explore the basics of astronomy. You will survey the solar system, learn simple navigation techniques and will hear about some of Dr. Lorann Parker’s personal experiences of astronomy.
In my mind, one of the greatest treasures we have on this mountain and specifically at MSAS is Dr. Lorann Parker, one of the founding directors of MSAS. She has multiple masters’ degrees and several doctorates and has lived and worked at some of the most exotic locations on earth. She is a Rim High graduate and has been retained by NASA for her experience and knowledge of space. Some of her memorabilia from NASA is on display at the Village gift shop and museum. MSAS participates with five universities offering graduate studies at the Village.
The inquisitive mind is a beautiful thing and there is much at the Village to spark deeper thinking in both you and your children. I have participated in more than a dozen of Dr. Parker’s lecture/discussions and one of the most phenomenal experiences was watching her work with university students. She challenged them to solve mathematical problems with astronomical equations. She is likely to say things like, “Astronomy encompasses all the disciplines.”
I’ve also watched her with younger students as she grabs their curiosity with experiments using star dust (meteorite particles) from outer space that bombard your backyard daily. Dr Parker’s eyes light up when she talks about the young people who have come to the Village.
As young Amy said, looking into the telescope, “Is this a picture I’m looking at?” The volunteer Dorothy said, “No, that IS Saturn and those ARE the rings around Saturn.” Amy’s response was, “Wow.”
When Amy’s brother took his turn looking in the telescope, he said, “I can learn this. I want to learn this.” Their parents encouraged their investigations and the now-grown brother has earned a degree in astrophysics while his sister is getting hers in astronomy. They are both pursuing more advanced degrees.
While you are at the Village, you will get up-to-date information concerning current whereabouts of the Hubble space telescope. It was the first astronomical observatory to be placed into space, with the ability to record images in wavelengths of light spanning from ultraviolet to near-infrared. The Hubble is on a satellite orbiting earth now.
Recently launched into space is the James Webb space telescope which is an orbiting infrared observatory. It complements and extends the discoveries of the Hubble space telescope. The Webb orbits the sun, one million miles away from the Earth. The Webb will examine every phase of cosmic history of space. It is NASA’s largest and most powerful space science telescope.
Some visitors come on a whim, while for others it is the destination point for a trip to California. One traveler from Virginia said, “After hearing Dr. Parker speak at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, I chose California as our vacation destination so my family could see the MSAS facility and listen to a Dr. Parker presentation and discussion. We had a marvelous time listening to her presentation; touching ‘aliens,’ learning constellations from the green laser (when night-time programs are available) and not to forget ‘Mars Mud!‘ The universe is within our reach.”
The Star Gazer’s gift shop is open. It also contains “out-of-this-world” science toys and even some used telescopes for sale. For the photographer, there is an abundance of accessories for those photos of the Orion Nebula.
The cost is: children, 7-15 years, $5.50; and Adults, 16 years+, $8.00. To make reservations and to learn more about all their innovative educational programs, contact the MSAS office at (909) 336-1699. The observatory and village are located at 27614 State Hwy 18, Lake Arrowhead, next to Rim of the World High School. Follow the signs for MSAS.