“The hurricane did one good thing,” says Charles Scovil, Curator of the Stamford Observatory. “It cleared out the atmosphere.” And that gives you one more reason to visit with Scovil after 8:00 pm on Friday evenings for a peek at the planets and stars that hang over Stamford through the facility’s 22-inch telescope.
The Stamford Observatory is located on the grounds of the Stamford Museum and Nature Center, 39 Scofieldtown Road. The entrance to the Museum’s upper parking lot, which is adjacent to the Observatory, is on Scofieldtown Road and only open on Friday nights. The Observatory is used, the rest of the week, as a research facility by the members of the Fairfield County Astronomical Society.
Approximately twice a month, Scovil hosts Astronomy Nights at 7:00 pm on a lower floor in the building where he talks about some aspect of stargazing. The series resumes this Friday, September 9, when Scovil’s subject will be the Andromeda galaxy. Then, it’s up into the Observatory’s dome for a glimpse at the heavens.
On most Friday nights, however, Scovil holds forth on whatever happens to be visible overhead. The telescope uses computerized technology to zero in on objects of interest in the night sky. But, it’s the knowledgeable, and often humorous, commentary that draws on Scovil’s 70-year interest in astronomy that makes a stop at the Observatory at must.
And Charles Scovil kids that he receives something in return from his visitors. “I get the most interesting view of people’s faces when they have one eye closed and the other one squinting into the eyepiece,” he jokes.
PATCH: What do you see in the night sky this time of year?
SCOVIL: The moon, of course, and any planet that’s visible, like Uranus and Neptune. They’re faint, small and hard to see. But, in the eyepieces you can see them as finite, round objects. We have a favorite cluster of stars – about a half a million stars all rolled into a ball. And there’s the Double-Double – two double stars orbiting each other.
PATCH: How long have you been associated with the museum?
SCOVIL: I was here before the telescope. 49 years.
PATCH: Is this the same telescope?
SCOVIL: This is the original one that was installed in 1965. I had a telescope in my backyard before that. But, I used it less and less as this one became available. I’d only been at the museum for three years at that point, so I was low man on the totem pole. But, I kept working and working and working and eventually worked myself into a job.
PATCH: How often are you at the Observatory these days?
SCOVIL: I’m here every night.
PATCH: And the public viewings are held year-round?
SCOVIL: 52 weeks a year, weather permitting, unless the temperature gets below 21 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t want to work any colder than that. And, luckily for me, neither does the telescope.
The Stamford Observatory is open to the public on Friday evenings from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, weather permitting. For members of the museum admission is free; for non-members: $3 Adults, $2 Children. www.stamfordmuseum.org