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Westport Astronomical Society Inspires Sunrise Rotary To See The Stars

Westport Astronomical Society President Dan Wright
Westport Astronomical Society President Dan Wright Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs

WESTPORT, Conn. — Westport Astronomical Society President Dan Wright told Sunrise Rotary on Friday to “spend some time looking up” — there’s lots to see in the night sky.

In 1975, after the Nike installation was decommissioned in Westport, a group of local astronomy enthusiasts led by Gerald Rolnick installed a telescope in the former radar dome at 182 Bayberry Lane.

The telescope was donated by Rolnick and the place was dubbed the Rolnick Observatory. The work converted what had been a “blemish on the neighborhood” into a community asset, Wright said.

More recently, the  Rolnick Observatory added a second telescope. It is the largest one in Connecticut available to the public, with four-and-a-half times the light-gathering power of the older unit, he said.

The larger a unit’s aperture, the more light it gathers, and the “dimmer the object you can see,” Wright said.

This second unit is portable and gets taken on a lot of road trips, he said.

Up next is Stellafane, in Springfield, Vt., the birthplace of American amateur astronomy, then later the Connecticut Star Party in Goshen. The trips are all in search of “dark sky locations” that enable them to see dim objects not visible in Westport because of I-95’s light pollution.

“We’ll go hundreds of miles for a dark sky,” he said.

Westport Astronomical Society grew from a handful of amateur astronomy enthusiasts 40 years ago to 107 active volunteer members today, Wright said. The society supports the observatory, in part by running a monthly speaker series and by inviting anyone interested to join them every clear Wednesday for an evening of star-gazing.

Another part of its mission is outreach. They participated in First Night last year for the first time and called it “a great experience,” Wright said.

They set up at the Westport Library for the Summer Solstice, at Wakeman Town Farm, and at the Discovery Museum, where they had a solar scope so visitors could look at the sun.

Wright summed up by putting us in our place. “We’re stuck to a rock that’s 12,756 kilometers wide, spinning at 460 meters a second, orbiting a giant ball of fire at a speed of 30 kilometers per second, and our entire solar system is orbiting a giant black hole at 220 kilometers a second,” he said.

“Support us, we’d love to have up there,” Wright said. If you’re interested, start by visiting www.was-ct.org .

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