Observatory Offers Public a Look at the Stars

Observatory Offers Public a Look at the Stars

Rolnick Observatory offers Sarah McDonald '11 a view to the stars, despite growing light pollution.

Pippa Hazlewood ’11
Opinions Editor

Wal-Marts, gas stations and other obnoxiously lit buildings are shedding unwanted light upon the Fairfield night sky.

This was the message Dan Wright, treasurer of the Westport Astronomical Society, emphasized during a recent “Free Public Night” at the Rolnick Observatory.

The Rolnick Observatory, located at 182 Bayberry Lane in Westport, wants locals to get interested in the night sky. The Observatory has been doing this by hosting free public nights every Wednesday and Thursday from 8 to 10 p.m.

This service has been available to the public since 1975, and ever since its establishment, volunteers have been standing by every week, willing to assist anyone with an interest in astronomy.

“We just want to make everyone aware of what they’re missing,” said Wright. “Growing up in North Dakota, my brother and I had a clear view of the Milky Way every night, but here the skies are only getting dimmer. And if people would just point all of their lights down at night, it wouldn’t even be a problem anymore.”

“However, because the Society runs only on the donations made by community members, it doesn’t have nearly enough money to advertise and get their message across,” said Wright. Especially in this economy, funds are running low, and the Society is seeing fewer and fewer donations.

The Observatory sees a variety of visitors every open night and hosts many events, from birthday parties to elementary class field trips. These events try to get kids interested in astronomy at an early age.

For those who want an alternative to services that involve “selling property on the moon” or “naming stars,” Society volunteers can research and locate a star whose light one can see on one’s birthday. All one has to do is put in request a few weeks in advance.

The Rolnick Observatory transformed from an old Nike radar site into the Westport Astronomical Society when Jerry Rolnick decided to donate a 12-inch telescope to the cause, back in the mid 1960s. After the telescope was installed, volunteers said that the Rolnick Observatory is now home to the largest, most powerful telescope in Connecticut.

“What makes a telescope good is the size. Bigger is better, because that way it can extract more light from the atmosphere and illuminate the sky more, making the stars brighter and easier to see,” said Wright.

The Rolnick Observatory will continue to be open for visitors, and will welcome anyone who is willing to volunteer.