Most visitors to the N.J. Meadowlands Commission’s DeKorte Park these days are here to go bird-watching, to enjoy the many walking trails, or just take in the park’s beautiful flowers and landscape on a crisp fall day.
What most of those visitors don’t realize is that on Monday and Wednesday nights, DeKorte offers a free attraction of an entirely different sort: the William D. McDowell Observatory’s research-grade telescope, capable of viewing objects millions of light years away.
The big draw at the observatory these days is the planet Jupiter, “It’s really putting on a nice show,” says Astronomer John Sloan, the observatory’s director. “And it’s going to get more and more spectacular as we progress into the fall and early winter, as the planet gets higher and higher in the night sky during our observing sessions.”
What’s more, the solar system’s biggest planet has a different look this fall.
Full story follows.
“Jupiter typically has had a big stripe across the top and another across the bottom,” says Dr. Sloan. “But when it came back around this time, the bottom stripe was missing. It has gone away before and come back, but it has the scientists scratching their heads as to why.”
Although light pollution is always a concern, given the observatory’s proximity to New York City, the 20-inch, f/9 Classical Cassegrain Telescope has filters that block the wave lengths specific to the various sources of light pollution, such as sodium street lights.
This month, the observatory will be open to the public from 8 to 10 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. Dr. Sloan suggests that unless you are visiting the observatory with a child, you might arrive at 8:30, after the initial rush.
One a busy night, the observatory has handled as many as 77 visitors, and the observatory itself can only accommodate 22 to 25 people at a time.
If you are planning to visit the observatory, consider this advice from Dr. Sloan:
* “Expect a bit of a wait, even with 10 or 15 people there. You form a line and wait your turn to take a look at whatever celestial objects we’re looking at that night.”
* “Don’t be disappointed if it gets cloudy during the course of the evening and viewing is impaired.” There’s no controlling the weather.
* “The best time is a clear night during a first quarter moon. When the moon is full, it washes out the fainter objects on the sky, and you don’t have much contrast on the Moon itself.” (This month, the first quarter Moon falls on Oct. 14.)
For more information about the observatory, and a detailed viewing schedule, go to www.njmeadowlands.gov/ec.
NJMC Communications Officer Jim Wright maintains the Commission’s daily nature blog, meadowblog.net – featuring beautiful photography and the latest info on the region’s abundant natural wonders.
Photo: Astronomer John Sloan and the McDowell Observatory telescope.