Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

March 7, 2014

NMC's Birmley Road observatory open to public tonight

TRAVERSE CITY — Two realms of science fascinate all types of people, regardless of age, said Jerry Dobek, a science and math instructor at Northwestern Michigan College.

“It’s dinosaurs and space,” he said.

Grand Traverse residents won’t get to study any towering, prehistoric reptiles anytime soon, but they can take a closer look at the celestial wonders that forever prompted humans to turn their gazes to the night sky.

Northwestern Michigan Astronomy Club members and the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society will host a public viewing at the college’s Birmley Road observatory south of Traverse City tonight.

The event is a perfect chance to learn a little bit more about astronomy or “the queen of science,” as Dobek calls it.

“It’s the foundation for all the other kinds of science,” he said. “Physics, earth science, chemistry, it all comes from trying to understand the universe around us through astronomy.”

Observatory operators will train their telescopes, pending clear skies, on several key features, including the planet Jupiter and the Great Orion Nebula, a cluster of gas and dust located more than 1,500 light years from Earth.

Jon Markl, an NMC student and a member of the astronomy club, encouraged those who attend tonight’s event to ask as many questions as they want.

“Everybody wants to know where we came from, or better yet where we’re going,” Markl, 30, said. “Learning about astronomy really can kind of help answer some of those questions.”

Bob Moler, 72, a founding president of the Grand Traverse Astronomical Society and the group’s newsletter editor, said northwest Michigan’s dark and clear nighttime skies make it an ideal place for people to launch an interest in astronomy.

“Everybody, especially if they’re a kid, has a wonder about the sky and the stars and the planets,” he said.

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