‘Astronomy is for everybody’

How Tupper Lake’s Adirondack Sky Center brought together astronomers to showcase up-close views of eclipse

Pat Quinn brings the sun into focus through his telescope before the April 8 total solar eclipse at L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake. Quinn, who is the grandson of “L.P. Quinn” traveled 1,000 miles to be in his hometown in the path of totality on Monday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

TUPPER LAKE — Even before the eclipse began on Monday, the thousands of people at L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake got stellar up-close views of the sun through the eyepieces of telescopes brought by members of the Adirondack Sky Center and Observatory, NASA eclipse ambassadors and volunteer amateur astronomers.

“Astronomy is for everybody,” ASCO Board President Seth McGowan said. The skilled telescope operators ASCO brought in helped facilitate this.

A few dozen tripods, each carrying a large lens, were set up in a roped-off corner of the field where members of the public could wander in, tap the shoulder of someone adjusting knobs and ask if they could take a peek.

“That’s what I’m here for,” Michael Goldstein said. “It’s been fun to show the beauties of the sun to everybody.”

He came from the Catskills. When a friend who works in Tupper Lake in the summers told him ASCO was looking for volunteers with telescopes, he agreed. He had never seen a total solar eclipse before.

Paul Rissetto of Saratoga prepares for the April 8 total solar eclipse at L.P. Quinn Elementary School in Tupper Lake. His telescope, not pictured, was a gift from his wife and kids, and got him started on a solar journey of learning and contemplating the skies. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Marbone)

“It was actually a way to get a motel reservation,” Goldstein admitted.

He said he got into astronomy because when he moved to the Catskills, for the first time, he was living in a place where he could easily observe the stars with dark skies at night.

“Most astronomers observe at night,” he said.

On Monday, everyone was doing it in the middle of the day.

Mark Bagdon, of Delmar, is a mechanical engineer who has done design work for ASCO’s planned new building. He got into astronomy back in high school when, for a science project, he ground a telescope lens and built his own. He said he saw the nearly seven-minute 1991 total solar eclipse in Baja, California.

Mark Bagdon lines up the sun in his telescope to get ready for the total solar eclipse on Monday, along with a slew of volunteer astronomers invited by the Adirondack Sky Center and Observatory. (Enterprise photo —Aaron Marbone)

L.P. Quinn was a meetup spot for astro-observers, who mingled, chatted about prior eclipse experiences, looked at how each telescope captured the sun differently and excitedly pointed out several sunspots.

Sunspots are disturbances in the sun’s magnetic field that can last from hours to days. In extreme cases, they turn into solar flares. The sun is currently in a high point of sunspot activity on an 11-year cycle right now, Goldstein said.

Pat Quinn pointed to one of the smaller sunspots and said it was around the size of the earth. That’s a typical size for a sunspot. He said it would take 1.3 million Earths to fill the sun.

Quinn is named for his grandfather, Lawrence Patrick Quinn, the same L.P. Quinn that the elementary school is named after. Monday was his first time being in the building named for his grandfather. He graduated from Tupper Lake High School in 1969, before the school had even been built.

But he has the star-seeking spirit of Tupper Lake, seen there on Monday.

Quinn lives in New Hampshire, where he works at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. He drove to the Midwest a few days before the eclipse, ready to jump over to Texas or Arkansas for the event, thinking those states would have good weather. They didn’t, so the night before the big event, Quinn turned around and drove 1,000 miles back to his hometown in Tupper Lake.

“When I heard it was here and they were putting on a presentation, I was like ‘That’s where I’m going to be,'” he said.

Quinn is an eclipse long-hauler. In 2017, he drove for three days from New Hampshire to Gleno, Wyoming for the eclipse.

“It was worth it. I had a grand time,” he said. He loves showing off his telescope.

Quinn said he’s a past vice president of the Amateur Telescope Makers of Boston and a member of the Springfield Amateur Telescope Makers, where, to become a full member, astronomers have to create their own telescope by generating a glass mirror into the correct shape — a process that can take between 100 to 400 hours, Quinn said.

Paul Rissetto, from Saratoga, said he comes up to ASCO as often as he can. On Monday, he brought his telescope, a birthday present from his wife and kids that got him started on his cosmic journey three years ago. His birthday coincided with the time that Comet Leonard was visible from Earth.

“They woke me up at 2 in the morning, we unpacked it, set it up and looked at the comet,” Rissetto said.

He said operating the telescope came with a learning curve as long as the path of totality.

“I never realized how much I didn’t know,” Rissetto said. That’s until he owned a telescope. “It’s disturbing how many variables there are.”

But he said the folks at ASCO are a “fantastic” source of knowledge. It’s one of the few gathering places in the region for people like him, where they hold birthday parties and other stargazing events.

Rissetto said the total solar eclipse was an excuse for the average person to get a safe look at the sun though a telescope. The sun is in the sky every day and with a solar lens can be viewed with a telescope. But people do not often get the chance unless a special event like an eclipse happens.

Every star in the sky has planets orbiting it, Rissetto said. And these visible stars are only ones within the Milky Way galaxy. There are an estimated 100 and 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe and many more beyond.

“It just makes you feel very small,” Rissetto said.

While the amateur astronomers marveled at the astronomical size of the universe, they also marveled at the astronomical odds that led to the eclipse that brought them all to Tupper Lake.

The Earth’s moon and sun are the exact right size, and the exact right distance from each other in relation to Earth to cause a total solar eclipse. The Earth and moon’s orbits are exactly right to make this possible every so often. The Earth is inhabited by intelligent, sentient humans who have the tools and knowledge to observe and appreciate these events. And Tupper Lake is an astronomical hub that just so happened to be in a path of totality for the first time in at least 1,000 years, during their lifetimes.

But McGowan said total solar eclipses won’t happen forever. They certainly aren’t going away in our lifetimes, he said, but the moon is moving away from the earth very slowly — at a rate of around 1.5 inches per year according to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Eventually, this means the moon will appear smaller from Earth and there will be no more total solar eclipses — only annular eclipses. But it will be a few hundred million years until that happens.

The next total solar eclipse seen from Earth will be on Aug. 12, 2026 in Europe. The next total solar eclipse in the contiguous U.S. will be in 2044. The next total solar eclipse to hit this area will be in 2399.


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