As my 11-year-old son peered into the eyepiece of a new 10-inch refracting telescope recently installed in Afton, Minn., he could hardly contain his excitement. “Wow, cool!” he said looking back at me before taking another peek.
What he saw on this Saturday afternoon was the sun — its large disk dotted with three sets of sunspots — cooler areas about the size of the earth on the sun’s huge surface that you wouldn’t be able to see without the aid of a telescope and a special filter making it safe to view.
I took my turn, and then we went to the back of the line so we could wait for another peek. I can only imagine how brilliant the night sky — the moon, planets and some deeper sky objects — will look through the eyepiece.
This is one of the things I love about science: Like faith, it can elicit awe and wonder. It reminds you about the beauty, complexity and vastness of God’s creation.
We were visiting Aug. 7 during an open house unveiling the Joseph J. Casby Memorial Observatory to the public. Housed inside its own viewing dome, the $70,000 addition is one of the best amateur scopes you’re likely to see.
The telescope recently received some good press in both the Minneapolis and St. Paul daily newspapers. The observatory is a joint project of the Minnesota Astronomical Society and the Belwin Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the local St. Croix Valley.
A Belwin education center, located near the observatory, is already used by some public school students, and there are reportedly plans to equip the classroom with the ability to show images from the telescope on large screens — not a bad option when Minnesota’s weather turns bitter cold.
According to the Minnesota Astronomical Society website, access to the observatory site is typically limited to MAS members and their guests. But, for anyone interested in stargazing opportunities or learning more about astronomy, MAS operates four other observing sites around the Twin Cities that often host public events. Check the MAS website for more info about the group’s “star parties.”