Hard as it might be to believe, you can see plenty of stars in New York City that aren’t on Broadway or in the movies. Plus, you don’t even need to bring your own telescope (or autograph book). Read on for our five favorite stargazing experiences. By Jessica Allen.
Most weekends, barring inclement weather or a special celestial event that might necessitate another night, Jason Kendall faithfully lugs a high-powered telescope to the top of Inwood Hill Park, and stays from dark until past midnight, seeing what there is to see, with whomever shows up. (Follow him on Twitter or join the Facebook group for specifics.) “Hey, the drug dealers know me,” Jason will explain to anyone who wonders about safety. “And nobody comes up here anyway. Too dark. It’s more dangerous during the day.” The night we went, we saw Jupiter.
From dusk to 9:30 or so on Tuesdays, from April to October, amateurs and experts gather for an evening of seeing the stars from one of the nicest parks in Manhattan. Folks from the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York are on hand to help you focus the telescopes, explain the difference between a supergiant and supernova, and understand the night sky. When you’re finished gazing, you can do some grazing at one of the nearby food stands, including barbecue from SmokeLine and pretzels from Sigmund’s.
The Astronomy Department at Columbia University regularly hosts public outreach programs to introduce laypeople to the wonders above. The program typically begins with a short lecture about such topics as whether we’re alone in the universe and why dark matter matters. After that, and weather permitting, you’ll head outside for 90 minutes of observation. On the rare occasion you can’t see anything from one of the department’s portable telescopes, you can still take a tour of the university’s observatory (the dome atop Pupin Hall) and watch slideshows of past viewings or solar events.
It’s easy to forget that our sun is actually a star. And that’s part of the reason why the Amateur Astronomers Association (AAA) holds its solar observation events. Using specially designed telescopes, you can get a sense of what’s happening on the surface of the sun on the second Saturday of the month at the Bronx Zoo or select Sundays in Central Park. If you’d rather see the stars at night, you can attend one of AAA’s many other viewing events, including at Van Cortlandt Park, Floyd Bennett Field, or Prospect Park.
As part of the World Science Festival, an annual series of events designed “ to cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future,” the organizers are sponsoring “The Dance of the Planets: An Evening Under the Stars” on Saturday, June 1. This combination stargazing/dance party promises to be informative and fun. You can bring your own telescope, hang out with astronomers, snack on treats from food trucks, and get down to live music. (One year at the festival, we saw a model of the James Webb Space Telescope, pictured.)