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Cottrel: Sky Watch attracts crowds

Even though cloudiness caused cancellation of the first Clark County Park District’s Sky Watch, 25 determined star gazers showed up anyway.

Encouraged by the enthusiasm, the park district decided to try again on Aug. 15, and the weather cooperated.

Drew Gross, a retired Tecumseh teacher and former sponsor of the school’s astronomy club, was quite happy to be leading a Sky Watch again. He was amazed that even though the alternate date had been set without much notice, more than 40 people attended.

Throughout the evening, Gross moved from group to group, answering questions and noting significant points in the sky.

The focus that evening was the Perseid meteor shower that radiates out of the constellation Perseus.

Saturn’s rings, and the moon’s mountains and craters were visible using the astronomical binoculars and the ETX 90 mm telescope that were provided for the group’s use.

Patiently, Gross helped people find two brilliant constellations, Cassiopeia and Pegasus, and explained how to locate the Andromeda Galaxy between the two. It’s the most distant point visible without a scope.

Many of those attending the event had some connection to Tecumseh schools or his former club.

Coaches Roger and Jenny Culbertson from Tecumseh and their son were there. Once the old astronomy club members found each other in the dark, it sounded like a reunion. Park Rangers Chris Crowley and Drew Goings were both former students of Gross and had worked to arrange his return to leading the Sky Watches.

“I heard him talking on the other side of a hill when I was hiking at John Bryant last year,” said Crowley, “He recognized my voice, too, and we met on the trail and talked.”

Starting up the old Sky Watches after an 11-year break was the result.

Recognizing voices is important at a Sky Watch. I thought I didn’t know anyone there until I started talking to Gross and I heard more than one hello.

Over the evening in the dark, I ran into quite a few community members who were enjoying the pleasant weather and the opportunity to learn more about the sky.

Steve and Vicki Durall drove out from New Carlisle. I met a nice family from Northridge. Enon residents Cromer and Peggy Smith were comfortably wrapped in blankets while they watched the sky. Richard and Irene Ferriman let our granddaughters look at the craters of the moon through their telescope.

“The stars aren’t as easy to see as I remember years ago,” said Irene Ferriman.

Others I spoke to agreed with her. Atmospheric pollution and light from the cities has reduced the number of stars easily visible with the naked eye. The Milky Way is not as easy to see in this area as it once was, even on a moonless night.

Gross spoke about the clear skies out west and being able to see stars from horizon to horizon, and more than one person expressed envy of the experience.

The park district is planning two more Sky Watches this year. One will be in December for another meteor shower and the other will be a month before that in November to look at a comet.

Although it is predicted to be somewhat spectacular, it is difficult to anticipate how bright and visible a comet will be.

“Comets are notorious for underperforming,” said Gross. “It could be visible during the daytime, but I will believe it when I see it.”

So be prepared to dress warmly in November, and keep your fingers crossed for a great comet show. I’ll see you there.

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