I became enamored with space after taking Introduction to Astronomy in college. Today, I’m still awed when I gaze upon the beauty of a sky strewn with stars. Astronomy is intriguing to kids of all ages, and even adults! “Astronomy is the ultimate why. If you like a mystery, you’ll like astronomy,” notes Rick Bria, vice president of the Astronomical Society of Greenwich.
If you want to explore space or just do some fun stargazing, local planetariums and observatories offer free public viewing nights (weather permitting). Some present informative lectures and simulation programs and are open for special celestial events.
Bowman Observatory, Greenwich,
Operated by members of the Astronomical Society of Greenwich (ASG), the observatory is open year-round for free public viewing on the first and third Wednesday of every month. Spring hours: 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Summer hours: 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. In the observatory, viewers look through a state-of-the-art 16-inch-diameter reflecting telescope and a 127 mm-diameter refractor telescope. The observatory features a motorized Observa-Dome that rotates 360 degrees. It also presents lectures on scientific astronomical topics and sponsors astronomy lectures at the Greenwich Library.
Discovery Museum and Planetarium, Bridgeport,
The Henry B. duPont III Planetarium, featuring a 10.2-meter dome, is known for its immersive digital shows and live lectures on the evening sky. Public planetarium shows run daily at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. (2 p.m. on weekends). Programming aims to make exploration of the universe accessible to audiences of all ages. The planetarium’s instruments include a Spitz 512 optical-mechanical planetarium projector and an off-axis Ash Enterprises Warped Media digital projection system. The museum utilizes a collection of astronomical telescopes, including a 10-inch Meade LX200 and a Coronado solar observing telescope for educational events and telescope nights.
As part of its DuPont Lecture Series, the museum hosts lectures on various science topics, including astronomy. On May 6, Alan Stern and David Grinspoon will discuss their book Chasing New Horizons, the Inside Story of the Greatest Space Exploration Project of New Horizons’ Mission to Pluto.
Stamford Museum & Nature Center Observatory and Planetarium, Stamford,
Open for public programming on select Sundays in spring and most Sundays in July and August, the planetarium offers visitors a chance to view seasonal constellations, hear star legends, or travel through the solar system within a small (45-seat) space. Planetarium shows are free for members or free with admission. The observatory viewings/lectures are free for members and $5 for non-member adults, $3 for non-member children under 17.
The Stamford Observatory offers Friday evening public viewing through its 22-inch research telescope (one of the largest in the Northeast) and presents an introduction to seasonal happenings in the sky. The observatory hosts noted local astronomers for a variety of lectures on select Fridays.
Western Connecticut State University Planetarium and Observatory, Danbury, wcsu.edu/starwatch
The planetarium is located in the Westside Observatory building atop a five-acre hill on the Westside campus. During spring and fall terms, the planetarium and observatory present free, one-hour planetarium shows followed by telescope viewing of prominent planetary and stellar objects through a 20-inch, computer-controlled Ritchey-Chrétien reflector telescope. In spring, visitors can observe the moon, Jupiter, star systems, clusters, and nebulae. Programs are offered biweekly on Saturday evenings; hours vary depending on the time of sunset for scheduled show and viewing dates. Visitors are asked to arrive before the start of the show; there is no admittance during the presentation. Seating is limited to 40 people and on a first-come, first-admitted basis.
Westport Observatory, Westport, was-ct.org
The Westport Observatory, located on the site of an old U.S. Army Nike missile base, is managed by the Westport Astronomical Society, one of the largest astronomy clubs in Connecticut. The observatory offers free public viewing every Wednesday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. It also hosts free monthly lectures in its classroom with experts from the American Museum of Natural History, Yale, UConn, MIT, Columbia, and other institutions from around the world.
The observatory dome houses a 16-inch Meade LX200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a 102 mm Explore Scientific apochromatic triplet refractor. If conditions allow, the observatory also features a massive 25-inch Obsession Dobsonian reflector — the largest telescope available to the public in Connecticut.
John J. McCarthy Observatory, New Milford,
Located on the southwest corner of the grounds of New Milford High School, the observatory hosts free public viewing of seasonal celestial objects and presentations on an astronomical-related topic on the second Saturday of every month. The public looks through a 16-inch telescope. Additionally, the facility has a six-mile outdoor true-scale solar system and a 3,000-square-foot Galileo’s Garden, featuring benches and a replica of Galileo’s first telescope.