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Amateur astronomers share love of night sky with young enthusiasts

ADIRONDACKS The Adirondack Mountains are famous for their picturesque beauty, endless forests, and majestic peaks. From the summits of the High Peaks to the gently sloping foothills to their south - the splendor of the region has been reflected in art, music, and print since the first recorded visits to the area. But for a small number of amateur astronomers - what makes the Adirondacks so special is something that few people take the time to appreciate. For them, it is not so much what is under our feet during the day that matters, but really what is above our heads at night. According to Olmstedville resident Bob Fisher, fighting pollution has become an integral part of his life. Although his concerns do not center around typical activities such as recycling or driving a fuel efficient vehicle (but he does feel these are important too) - to Fisher, its the issue of light pollution that propels him to action. As a member of the International Dark-Sky Association, Fisher and his colleagues work to bring awareness to an issue that is often overlooked. "What most people dont realize is this area is considered a dark-sky region by the IDA, he said. "Within the boundaries of the Adirondack Park you dont have as many electric lights as you do in other places. To illustrate his point, Fisher points to the lack of lighting along the Adirondack Northway as an example. Highways are a big contributor to light pollution, he noted. While he acknowledges that some parts of the region contain isolated pockets of light at night - as a whole the Adirondacks are considered to be one of the most favorable areas for serious astronomical study on the east coast. As proof, he refers to a map published by the IDA that shows the upstate region of New York at night. "It's an interesting map because you can see the entire outline of the country and the given areas, he said. The fascinating part about that is the Adirondacks in the northeast is like a dark pocket within all these lights. "Basically this is one of the darkest areas east of the Mississippi River." As a retired high school biology teacher, Fisher has continued to focus on education as the key to conservation. His efforts include a speech to the local Rotary International organization last year. In it, he focused , on the importance of limiting "light trespass" and installing energy efficient outdoor light fixtures that provide full cutoff lighting when viewed from above. Its just a lot nicer to be around too, he said. He has also been invited to a number of area schools to speak on the topic. As part of his effort, Fisher is hoping to build on the interest within area schools and eventually introduce students to astronomy through hands-on projects such as building a sun dial, and other basic science programs. "The idea is to teach kids that it's not just below your feet that matters but what is up in the sky too, he concluded. Chances are if you are driving by an open field in Long Lake and you see a man peering through a giant telescope - you have just found local resident, Steve Durham. Earlier this year, Durham was honored to receive a Meade telescope through his association with the National Sharing the Sky Foundation (NSSF). The telescope was presented to Durham by another local astronomer, David Levy, who was incidentally the co-discoverer of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet in 1993. "As an amateur astronomer, each of us is involved in understanding light pollution, Durham said. Its a critical educational issue. As part of his commitment to bring astronomy to the public, Durham travels around the region hosting free stargazing events with his new telescope. "What I have been doing is setting up what we call public star party events where I take the telescope to a local field or open area, set it up, and invite people to come and stop to look through it, he said. I have also done a couple of private parties this past summer and I really enjoyed them. Durham credits his relationship with the Levys as having the most influence on his desire to share the sky with others, including participation in their annual Astronomy Retreat held each year in Lewis, New York. Theyve been doing it for four years and Ive been to every one so far, he noted. They know how I feel about astronomy. I think its something that should be shared with as many people as we can share it with so that is what I try to do. Like his associate Bob Fisher, Durham hopes to inspire a new generation of astronomers to look toward the sky at night and wonder what is going on up there. I think that there are a lot of basic things in life that get overlooked and the night sky is one of those things that is there but people really dont have a clue about, he said. If I can get one person started along the path of an astronomy education and know that somehow, 10 or 20 years down the road, that this person discovers something important - I will be proud to know that I gave them that little bit of start down the road. Thats what Im looking for right now, he said.

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