Amazing stargazing

Have you ever gazed into the night sky with a sense of curiosity? Have you felt drawn to the heavens, overtaken by a sense of wonder and the desire to know more? Well, thank your lucky stars! People who hold the keys are right here in Chautauqua County!

The Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association, Inc. is a group headquartered high on a hill in Frewsburg. A non-profit organization comprised of volunteers, it is devoted to the amateur astronomer. According to its literature, the emphasis of the Association is “observational astronomy, well-rooted in public education and enjoyment of the starry skies.”

Its mission is “to inform, educate and inspire the general public and support teaching in the sciences of astronomy and physics.”

Originally, the site and equipment were the property of Marshall Martz, a professor at Jamestown Community College and an amateur astronomer. The Observatory was not open to the general public at that time, but could be used by Martz’s students. After his death, his widow lived in the building for several years. When the MMMAA acquired the Observatory, many upgrades were needed.

The volunteers share an enthusiasm about the Observatory that is contagious. They are also reassuring that a visit can be time well-spent for the novice.

“You don’t have to have knowledge of astronomy,” said Richard Carlson, MMMAA secretary.

Technology /software personnel Tom Traub and John Anderson guide visitors through the use of the 20 inch visual observation telescope.

Carlson discussed 3D educational tools and hands-on learning experiences. He displayed a “re-enactment” of the creation of craters in the moon’s surface. The science activity allows children to personally engage in a similar process using common objects (flour, cocoa, pebbles.)

“It’s a joy for us,” Carlson said.

He also discussed his love of working with sight-impaired people.

“Give me that person,” he said.

He brought out a 3D model that offers a sense of size, distance, and proportions of celestial objects. Charts, displays, and the telescopes themselves are additional means for visitors to broaden their horizons. An exciting addition to the Martz Observatory was the donated equipment from the Dr. Ronald Kohl Observatory of Lakewood. Kohl, a retired orthodontist, had built his own observatory and installed a computer-operated telescope. The MMMAA Board and volunteers including Brian Ceci, machinist, and Martin Lydell, contractor, have used their technical skills to incorporate Kohl’s equipment.

Other site improvements include a new classroom with an enlarged seating capacity, the continuing renovation of the Observatory control room, and the conversion of bathroom facilities to afford handicapped accessibility. Grants have been obtained for a roll-off roof observatory. Mary Putnam of Warren, Pa., has been a member of the organization for several years.

“We have seen a lot of transitions and growth,” she said.

On May 27, Gary Nelson, MMMAA president, introduced Dr. James LoPresto, solar astronomer and retired Edinboro astronomy professor. A crowd of approximately 40 people listened intently to presentations that explained the basis of time-keeping, calendars and facts about galaxies.

Educational outreach takes many forms. The site is a field trip destination for scout and 4H groups and school students. A young girl had her tenth birthday party there. Individuals can learn about the dome and the control features, and enjoy the thrill of looking through a 20 inch telescope to gain an up-close and personal view of the moon or Jupiter. According to Carlson, thousands have been served through the auspices of MMMAA over the past 12 years. He said that in addition to serving as a public education site, it has been a satellite teaching facility for local institutions such as Jamestown Community College. He added that several schools have partnered with the Martz Observatory, including Frewsburg, BOCES, Jamestown and Cassadaga Valley. The pilot program began with the Frewsburg school, with images from the Observatory transferred to the school. Additional schools will be contacted in the fall to see if they are interested in becoming involved as well. The Association has a collection of 10,000 superior pictures. The 24″ telescope has remote capability for research, with amazing opportunities for making discoveries.

One weekend a month, the OBSERVER features an article written by Kohl describing the astronomical highlights of the coming month. Some people might assume that this is an Associated Press feature that originates elsewhere in the country. Imagine this column comes from our own “backyard!”

The website Martzobservatory.org is a treasure trove of information. The newsletters are a combination of interesting and entertaining facts. There is a link to the One Minute Astronomer, which includes free courses entitled, “Guide to the Night Sky and Basic Astronomy,” “Introduction to Stargazing,” ‘How to Choose a Telescope” and “How to Take A Great Astro-Photo” by Brian Ventrudo.

There are also directions to the Observatory, a membership application, and a calendar of special programs. The public is invited to board and general meetings the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month. Open houses are scheduled the first and third Wednesdays of the month and some selected Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re there, rain or shine,” said president Nelson, who works as an optician. During the summer, the actual viewing of the darkened skies takes place later, but there is plenty to see before that.

Due to the expansion taking place, the public is encouraged to visit more towards the end of July. “August, September and October are great months for viewing,” said Nelson.

Suggested donations of $2 for students and $5 for adults are accepted for upkeep and insurance.

Does this sound interesting, but a little out of the norm? There are kind, patient, committed guides waiting.

Carlson said, “It’s been my hobby for 67 years. We’re astronomers without borders people of all walks of life.”

Call 569-3689 or visit the Martz/Kohl Observatory at 176 Robbin Hill Road, Frewsburg to start a journey onward and upward.


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