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Montauk Observatory To Host William Taylor, NASA Solar System Ambassador

Sydney A. Braat

"To all of us at the Montauk Observatory, this work is important because it not only puts people in closer touch with the universe around them, but with each other," said Donna McCormick. (Photo: www.facebook.com)

The Montauk Observatory (MO) will host an event with guest speaker William Taylor, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, entitled "The Winter Solstice" on Thursday, November 10th from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Join Taylor, who is also a local tutor and life-long East End resident, at the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor as he discusses what makes the days shorter and the nights longer, what's the astronomical reason for the coolness in the air, and the science of the sun and the sky.

"I plan on giving folks an overview of the (apparent) motion of the sun around the celestial sphere, and how the tilt in Earth's orbit gives rise to the different seasons," said Taylor, who has been a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador since 2014. "But beyond the science of the sun, I'm also going to talk about how the sun was viewed by different cultures through history, and the different festivals that occur in the winter to celebrate its passage through the solstice."

"The mission of MO is to make science, especially astronomy, accessible to everyone," said Executive Director of The Montauk Observatory, Donna McCormick. "We bring renown scientists to lecture to South Fork communities, and also host programs that integrate science and the arts. Our knowledgeable associates give guided tours of the night sky during 'star parties,' where people get a closer look at celestial objects through powerful telescopes; you should hear the "wow's' and 'ah's' of folks who have never before looked through an eyepiece!"

When asked why The MO is so important to our local community, Taylor remarked, "They are committed to bringing astronomy to the people of our community through lectures, stargazing nights, and the construction of a professional-grade observatory which will be open to the public, giving everyone incredible views of the stars. The Hamptons are very fortunate to have relatively dark skies with great views into space, and the observatory will make it easier than ever for folks to see what's out there."

There are so many opportunities around the corner for students interested in this field of study. Taylor recommends that "students attend any of the lectures or observing nights at the observatory, most of which are hosted at the Ross School. The Custer Observatory in Southold is also a great site to visit to learn more about space. I also like to recommend the book The Stars, by H. A. Rey, which is where I first learned how to see the constellations. H. A. Rey was the author of Curious George, and his maps of the night sky are both extremely imaginative and perfectly accurate. I would also say that if you are coming into this for the first time, it's better to get a pair of binoculars before you invest a lot of money in a telescope - there is so much to see every clear night, and binoculars make it easy to find all sorts of surprises, from distant galaxies to craters on the Moon."

Taylor hopes this lecture will be educational and informative because there's so much work our community needs to do to protect our environment. "One important issue to get involved in, and one which is a never-ending battle, is figuring out how to fight back against light pollution," said Taylor. "The superfluous and wasted light of towns and cities really drowns out the beauty of the night sky and messes up our sleep patterns. East Hampton has been a pioneer in coming up with solutions, but there's always more work to do. People can visit darksky.org to learn more about it."

"The Winter Solstice" is a free community event, but donations will be greatly appreciated via MO's website. No reservations are needed, though there is limited seating.

Wherever we are in the world, we share the same moon. "To all of us at MO, this work is important because it not only puts people in closer touch with the universe around them, but with each other," said McCormick. "For example, whether you live on Long Island or in California, in Ireland or Iraq, we're all inspired by the same moon. Moreover, mankind has been looking at that same moon since prehistoric times and will continue to do so far into the future. In those ways, astronomy helps us understand our connection to each other and to the universe around us. It helps put life into perspective."

The John Jermain Memorial Library is located at 201 Main Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, visit www.montaukobservatory.com.

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