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Bringing The Sky Into Focus

Martz-Kohl Observatory Makes Its Lectures Available Online

The night sky at Martz-Kohl Observatory. Submitted photo

FREWSBURG — The night sky is filled with many stars. Bringing those stars into focus is what Martz-Kohl Observatory does for its members. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the observatory is not open to its members or to the public.

According to Gary Nelson, observatory president, the observatory is making some of its lectures available online for people to view. The topics, Nelson said, vary.

He said the subject matter includes information about traveling to Mars, information about the sun, traveling to the moon, the expansion of the universe and how stars are born.

“All these lectures took place at the observatory by professionals from NASA, Penn State Behrend, Gannon University, and astro photography,” Nelson added.

The lectures include Dr. Darren Williams — Astronomical Contributors to Climate Change; and Laurie Abadie — Lunar Astronauts: Preparing America’s Next Moon Landing Crew.

People gather outside the Martz-Kohl Observatory to view a solar eclipse. Submitted photo

Williams is a professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics, along with planetary science, at the Penn State Behrend Campus in Erie, Pa. As a teen, Williams started his future career endeavors as an astronomy hobbyist at the Martz Kohl Observatory. Currently, Williams is studying the dynamics surrounding the orbits of the planets and moon as well as the evolution of the solar system.

Abadie is a human space flight specialist with NASA. Her title is Deputy Manager for Communications and she is part of a team for NASA’s Human Research Program, now working to develop the moon landing crew for the planned 2024 U.S. moon landing expedition. The presentation is about 1 hour and 4 minutes.

Nelson said there is no password needed to watch the lectures, and Google Chrome is the best browser in which to watch.

The observatory is known for holding star watching sessions, and Nelson said the best weather is when the stars are not twinkling and the moon is not in the sky. Fall and winter are the best seasons because the ground temperature is equal to the air temperature.

“With the large telescopes, they are sensitive to light, so the background of the sky must be dark to see deep sky objects. After a storm or even just before a storm, the atmosphere is more stable. After a rain, the earth’s ground temperature is the same as the air temperature. Normally during the day, the sun heats up the earth, and when the air temperature cools down at night, the earth is radiating heat which the larger telescopes would pick up, like heat waves off of black top in the summer. This is what makes the stars twinkle at night. Images through the telescope with this condition, would create a shimmering effect,” Nelson added.

Nelson gave his reasons why he is attracted to astronomy.

¯ “When you look up, you see a lot of stars. (Stars are like our sun). Is there a place out there like ours?

When you point a telescope skyward, there is a lot to see, that your eyes cannot.

¯ “Astronomy, can be as complicated as you want it to be. Amatuers are always looking up. They discover more than the professionals. Professionals are studying want the amatuers have found. I compare astronomy to what Christopher Columbus did during his life. He set out to discover other areas of the earth. We are doing the same thing only in our heavens.

¯ “I always wanted a telescope, but really could not afford one. I built my first telescope and it worked. By trade, I work in optics.

¯ “It amazes me how much is up there. When I look through a telescope, it is the closest thing to traveling through space. The telescope is like a time machine in that the object you are looking at millions of light years away. It would take a million years for that light to reach us. What we see in a telescope on a deep sky object took many million of years to reach our scopes. You will never know what you will see every time you take a look the the telescope.”

Nelson said the observatory has had more than 1,000 visitors during some events. “We have visitors from Sweden, Spain, Germany Russia and many other places nall over the world. We are well known all over the world. The village of Frewsburg has made possible for us to operate. We are located at the highest spot in Chautauqua County,” he added.

The observatory is run by the Marshal Martz Memorial Astronomical Association, a not-for-profit voluntary group of people interested in astronomy, and is located at 176 Robbin Hill Road, Frewsburg. For more information, visit martobservatory.org.

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