One of Ned Smith’s giant telescopes, pictured here at his home
observatory. Smith offers free glimpses into the starry firmament
with his StarGaze demos, beginning this year on Thursday at 6:30 in
the Trenton town square.
By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
amateur astronomer, Ned Smith, kicks off this year’s edition of his StarGaze
project at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday on the Trenton courthouse square, weather
permitting. The public is invited to bundle up and come out for a free peek at
the starry firmament through one of Smith’s powerful telescopes.
the series last December and was met with lines of children who ringed the
square waiting for their turn at the big ‘scope. He responded to the enthusiasm
by repeating the demonstrations once a month.
Smith moved those monthly sessions south down Highway 11 to the county athletic
fields. “That didn’t work because nobody could find us,” he said. “So this year
we’re moving back to the courthouse square. It’s not an ideal location but
everybody knows where it is.”
Thursday might have been better for sky-watching than this one because of the
Geminids meteor shower that peaked that night. Smith said the meteors are
visible for perhaps two nights before and two after peak. A week later is too
What will be
visible this week is the moon, Jupiter and Jupiter’s moons. “After that, it’s
kind of a guess what we can see through the sky pollution,” he said. There are
about 25 interesting celestial features, including other galaxies, that may or
may not be discernible depending on the weather, he said.
Smith said last
year he discontinued the monthly stargazing sessions after daylight savings
time kicked in, because that made all-the-way-dark too late for youngsters to
stay out on school nights.
said, some regular StarGaze attendees came out to his home observatory in
August to view the transit of Venus in the daytime. This event is when the
planet passes in front of the sun. “That will not be visible again for 110
years,” said Smith.
astronomic business, Smith reported that he had contributed at Creek Hill
Observatory to a Harvard University paper on this year’s asteroid occultation,
and that he had acquired two new telescopes, a 25-inch “light bucket” for
tracking asteroid occultations and an 8-inch “RC” on an equatorial mount for
astrophotography. The latter will not be operational until Smith finishes
building the mount, but after that he hopes to have impressive starry-firmament
pictures to share.
Until then, he
hopes to see fellow stargazing enthusiasts on the square Thursday night. And to
those who may worry that Thursday is their next-to-last night to sort the sock
drawer before the universe blinks out of existence on Dec. 21 in accordance
with the Mayan Long Calendar, Smith joins NASA and other scientifically-minded
pundits in saying: Stop worrying.
“The earth is over 4 billion years old,” he
said. “Anything that could have happened has already happened. No lineup of the
planets is going to cause the world to end.”