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Spring moon and Saturn attract 500 gazers around GR

Calvin College Senior Kristen McHugh gazes up at Saturn

Calvin College Senior Kristen McHugh gazes up at Saturn /Jaimé Johnson

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Javier Estrada (left) and Frank Roldan show off a high-powered telescope

Javier Estrada (left) and Frank Roldan show off a high-powered telescope /Jaimé Johnson

The moon captured on iPhone through Estrada's telescope

The moon captured on iPhone through Estrada's telescope /George Wietor

An estimated 500+ space-enthusiasts took in clear viewings of both the waxing crescent moon and Saturn at last night’s Spring Moon Gaze. The event, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association (GRAAA), was held in a dozen parking lots around the greater Grand Rapids area with astronomy experts on hand to answer the questions of curious onlookers in very simple terms.

As Rickey Ainsworth, manager of the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, explained: “You might think that when the moon is full that would be the best time to observe it, but it’s actually more interesting to observe it during this crescent phase because the sun’s hitting it at an angle, which makes the shadows really long. So, looking at craters and mountains and things like that have a lot more definition. When the moon is full, it looks flat through a telescope. So now’s a really good time look at it”

Stationed at Rosa Parks Circle (135 Monroe Center NW) along with Ainsworth were Dr. Javier Estrada from the Physics Department of Grand Valley State University and Frank Roldan, Vice President of the Shoreline Amateur Astronomer Association in Holland.

“It’s very nice to share these experiences and it’s exciting to see the interests of people” Estrada said. “When they look at the moon or they look at Saturn for the first time, you see that they are really impressed. It’s very nice to share these ideas and these experiences. I think when you share ideas you become richer.”

Kristen McHugh, a graduating art major at Calvin College who routed her nightly run by Rosa Parks to do a little moon gazing, agrees. “I’m glad I came because I’m really interested in listening to people talk about what they’re really interested and passionate about…I can take those pockets of information and continue learning.”

Ainsworth believes learning stars increases scientific literacy and has a practical application. "You can lean how to use the sky in useful ways – if you are lost out in the woods, wondering what time it is – there are a lot of ways the sky affects us all the time… when it’s not useful, it can just be interesting.”

Estrada agreed. “The more we explore the universe, the more information we have and when people have a little background in astronomy they can understand better what they hear in the news.”

Last night was one of four yearly moon gazes where GRAAA brings telescopes and space experts out into popular gathering places with the hopes of sharing the wonders of space.

“It’s a nice chance to get out into the community and to let people look through telescopes who might not normally have the chance or take the chance to" Ainsworth said.

Roldan, a Grand Haven resident, echoed Ainsworth's sentiment. “We are trying to make people aware of the sky because people seldom look up these days at nighttime – and, of course, being in the city where the there’s so much light so get out to the country or, even better than that turn off your lights once in a while. And look up!”

You have another opportunity to gaze at the moon and Saturn tonight from 8:30 to 10:30pm at Rosa Parks Circle and any of the other locations listed on the GRAAA website. Additionally, the Veen Observatory in Lowell, which is operated by GRAAA, will be open for public viewing this Saturday from 9:30 to 11:00pm.

Besides tonight, the next public downtown star gazing session is tentatively scheduled for this fall during ArtPrize. Watch coverage of last fall's Harvest Moon Gaze previously on The Rapidian.

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