At the foot of the Washington Monument,hundreds of amateur and professional stargazers gathered Friday to look up at distant stars and planets for the fourth annual “Astronomy Festival on the National Mall.”
Donald Lubowich,65,a Hofstra University astronomy professor and the coordinator of the viewing,said he wanted an event that could bring together experts with everyday tourists.
“We had a couple from Pittsburg who were just walking back from the White House,just happened to pass by us and decided to stop by,” he said.
Catherine Eliot,43,an occupational therapy student from Silver Spring,Md.,said she came for her sons,Matthew,3 and Jack,9.
“We have two boys,and we feel like it’s important that they have a chance to explore space and understand more about sci-”
“Mommy,I wanna do one more!” Matthew said,interrupting,pointing up at a giant white telescope.
Others,like Brian Schnitzler,29,a recent college graduate in management studies from Waldorf,Md.,who works in retail,came for less expected reasons.
“I’m interested in astrophysics,” Schnitzler said,“But yeah,honestly,‘Star Wars’ is what really got me interested in looking at other planets.”
Standing by his telescope,Harold Williams,62,the director of the Montgomery College planetarium,oversaw a long line of people trying to get a peek through his lens.
“Saturn is 76 light minutes away!” he said,shouting for everyone to hear.
“The dot over there that set called the sun was eight light minutes away,” Williams said. “At least that’s what my iPad said.”
“There’s Saturn!” a spectator said,“Right before my eyes.”
“Yes,that’s the real thing,” Williams said. “Not a simulation,not a picture,real photons in your eyes.”
Williams said people should pay attention to the stars,both for what we know about them,and more important,for what we don’t.
“We used to think we understood a lot. We do,but there’s more that we don’t understand than what we understand,” Williams said. “We understand less than 5 percent of the universe.
“You are made up of the dust of exploded stars. Your very body,everything on this planet,that moon is made up of the dust of exploded stars,” he said.
After a week that included thunderstorms and lots of rain,Friday turned out to be a perfect night for stargazing.
“This is the best weather you could possibly hope for in June,” Lubowich said. “Low humidity,low temperature,not a cloud in the sky.”
“We saw Mercury tonight,” he said,“And there were people here who’ve said they’ve only seen Mercury two or three times in Washington in their careers,OK?”
Lubowich said astronomer Carl Sagan,who died in 1996,inspired him to encourage children and others to learn about astronomy.
This story has been updated to correct Donald Lubowich’s comments about how Carl Sagan encouraged him to share his knowledge of astronomy with children.
Reach reporter Memet Walker at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.