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Stargazing in our own backyard

Astronomy may be one of the oldest natural sciences, but it’s also the perfect new hobby. Between all of the planets, moons, comets, galaxies and twinkling stars — there’s just so much to see.

“You can look up night after night and it’ll never be the same. Something different will always wow you,” Gene Timothy of the Buffalo Astronomical Association (BAA) said.

But as with any new hobby, there’s a learning curve. Lucky for us, Western New York offers a lot of crash courses.

The Buffalo Astronomical Association is a great place to start. The organization is comprised of people with a passion for the night sky who love to share their expertise and resources.

The group offers free public nights the first Saturday of the month, running through fall, at Beaver Meadow Observatory in Java, New York (a 40-minute drive from Buffalo). It’s a great opportunity to use state-of-the-art telescopes while learning lingo from the pros.

When I visited in spring, the clear skies revealed some of the best and brightest, literally. I experienced the moon (the brightest natural object), Venus (the second brightest), Pollux (the closest giant star to the sun), and Betelgeuse (the ninth brightest star). I was told seeing Saturn and Jupiter would be even more awe-inspiring, which was hard to believe because I was already feeling incredibly small in the best possible way.

“The only thing you can do is to not think about it too much. But if you do, just consider how far away that star is that you’re looking at,” said Tim Collins, a senior presenter at the Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium at SUNY Buffalo State. “Then wonder if there is a world out there where someone else is looking at your star at the same time.”

Kellogg Observatory at the Buffalo Museum of Science | Stargazing in our own backyard | Buffalo Magazine

Kellogg Observatory at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

The newly renovated Kellogg Observatory at the Buffalo Museum of Science, which has been closed since 1999, now offers the unique opportunity to participate in daytime solar observing, as well as nighttime viewing through the museum’s restored and historic Lundin telescope.

Observatories like Kellogg are ideal for looking through a telescope with domes opening up to the night sky, but there are many ways to see to infinity and beyond. Planetariums utilize advanced projection systems to show impressive views of the Earth’s sky and the universe, and you won’t need to rely on fickle Buffalo weather.

The Williamsville Space Lab Planetarium offers a full dome projection system that uses six video projectors to cover the space with seamless immersive imagery. Here, you can fly around the solar system, visit planets, cruise through a galaxy and witness celestial phenomena.

Programming includes Sky Tours covering subjects like “When Black Holes Collide” and “Exotic Stars,” but also laser shows that use full-color laser graphics and theater quality surround sound to the likes of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Both of these offerings start up again in the fall.

The Whitworth Ferguson Planetarium at SUNY Buffalo State, which is currently in its temporary home while plans for its new facility are in development, is a 20-foot inflatable dome that becomes a spherical computer monitor with amazing visual quality. The construction of the new planetarium is slated to begin in fall 2018.

But now is the time to start this hobby, especially given that Buffalo will be nearly dead center for the next solar eclipse in the United States on April 8, 2024, where we’ll see over three minutes of total darkness. The next solar eclipse after that won’t be in the States until 2045.

Where to stargaze

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