The Hippo


Jan 18, 2020








NH Astronomical Society Skywatch. Courtesy photo.

Winter Skywatch

When: Wed., Dec. 28, 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Nesmith Library, 8 Fellows Road, Windham
Cost: Free; registration required. Visit or call 432-7154.
There are also free public skywatches Saturday, Dec. 31, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Market Square in Portsmouth and Friday, Jan. 6, 7 to 10 p.m. at McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, 2 Institute Drive, Concord

A stellar view
NH Astronomical Society presents winter skywatch

By Matt Ingersoll

 While the weather may be getting chillier and nightfall arriving more quickly, low humidity levels are bringing generally clearer skies, creating perfect opportunities to bring out that telescope collecting dust in your closet.

If you want some tips from the experts while you look at the stars, there’s a winter skywatch scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Nesmith Library in Windham.
Steve Rand, a retired earth science teacher at Merrimack High School and current board member of the New Hampshire Astronomical Society, will be leading the event, which will consist of a presentation and discussion followed by a guided tour of all you can see up above this time of year.
Rand said the Society normally brings along at least three or four telescopes for viewing, but anyone is welcome to bring their own as well. The library will be providing its own telescope given to them as part of the NH Astronomical Society’s library telescope public outreach program.
“Most of our skywatches will typically have a 30- to 45-minute slideshow presentation to start with while the telescopes are being set up,” Rand said, “and it’s basically an overview of astronomy and of where we are in space and time, as well as of the specific objects that we’ll be looking at in the night sky.”
Telescopes are then set up at a designated location, usually in a nearby area that is dim enough for viewing. Rand said among the objects that are visible this time of year is the Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31.
“The Andromeda is one of our closer companions in this part of the universe. It’s about 2.5 million light years away,” Rand said. “Any star you see with the naked eye is in the Milky Way galaxy, but [the Andromeda] is another whole island of stars.”
The Orion Nebula, or M42, is also visible this time of year through a telescope. Rand said it is often called a “stellar nursery” because new stars are always being formed in that particular part of the sky.
“There are globular clusters of hundreds of thousands of stars that are neat to see, and other galaxies are an awesome thing as well,” Rand said. “The moon is always awesome too, seeing the craters, and when there are planets that are visible, that’s always a popular thing to see. … For instance, Jupiter will be coming up later in the winter. Right now it is rising at around 2 in the morning, but as we get into January and February, then it’ll be rising at a more decent hour in the evening for viewing.”
The New Hampshire Astronomical Society is a nonprofit made up of volunteers, and skywatches are always free. All you have to do is be sure to dress warmly for outdoor viewing and be mindful of the cloud cover before you head out.
“You never know what the conditions are going to be like, but if it’s overcast and a skywatch gets cancelled or postponed, oftentimes we’ll still have the presentation,” Rand said. “It’s totally up to the group involved, so sometimes we might stretch the presentation into an hour and then follow it with the skywatch on an alternative date the next night or two nights later.”
The New Hampshire Astronomical Society holds several area skywatches and other astronomy events each month, usually at libraries or schools.
“The skywatches that are associated with schools basically pretty much get restricted to the target audience, because they might coincide with a physics or astronomy course going on at the school,” Rand said. “However, with the library skywatches, we’re apt to get anybody. It might be friends of the library or senior citizens, but it might also be family members that bring smaller kids in as well. … Everybody that just has an interest in astronomy is welcome.”

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