New York City's first public observatory is coming to the Bronx

New York City's first free observatory is coming to a Bronx park, and organizers expect to open it to stargazers this spring.

The Society of Amateur Astronomers and the city Parks Department have agreed to install a small aluminum observatory in Jerome Park on Golden Avenue, near the Bronx High School of Science. The 800-pound dome, which will crown the structure, remained atop a building at Nassau Community College on Long Island for more than 40 years, until 2019, when the school replaced it with a green roof and six outdoor telescopes. The association removed the dome last spring with the help of a boom truck.

Now, the society is on the cusp of achieving one of its long-term goals: opening the first public stargazing facility in New York City.

“There were some comments from people who said, 'Why would you put an observatory in the Bronx?'” said Bart Freed, executive vice president of the Society of Amateur Astronomers. “All they think is, 'Oh, you know, you can't see anything from New York,' which is bullshit because we've been watching all over New York for almost a century.”

The observatory, which will be located on the banks of the Jerome Park Reservoir, is not much larger than a small bowl. The 9.5-foot-high, 6.5-foot-wide structure can comfortably seat two or three people. Its dome will contain a strong house Celestron EDGE High Resolution Telescope Able to provide stargazers with views of everything in our solar system, such as comets, asteroids, the Sun and all the planets, including the dwarf planet Pluto.

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“Once we start doing some astrophotography, I would say the universe is pretty much the limit,” Freed said. “There are literally thousands of things that can be photographed from New York City, and those things include a large number of galaxies, star clusters, gaseous nebulae, and everything and anything in the universe.”

The project has the approval of the Parks Department, and officials said that the administration is finalizing its agreement with the Society of Amateur Astronomers, which will manage the observatory.

Farid said the group plans to break ground in March, and construction should only take a month. He noted that the association had hoped to begin construction last May, but obtaining city approval took longer than expected despite support from the local community council and the city's Public Design Commission.

“We expect construction to take place in the spring, after an agreement is finalized and a contractor is selected,” Parks Department spokesman Greg McQueen told Gothamist via email.

The $100,000 astronomy complex will be powered by solar energy and equipped with screens on the exterior that display the telescope's view. Organizers said the observatory's programming will include small weekly public presentations for a small number of participants, and occasional larger events where additional telescopes will be placed around the dome.

The Association of Amateur Astronomers says it will fund, maintain and operate the observatory, which will be open to the public seven nights a week, free of charge. The cost of the observatory was funded by public donations and a grant from the Jay Pasachoff Fund. Bronx Science students will have exclusive access to their own programs during school hours.

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Science historian Trudy E. “The Association of Amateur Astronomers has been working for many years trying to create some kind of public observatory in New York City, so this is kind of a big moment,” said Bell, who is working on two projects. – A volume encyclopedia about American observatories and telescopes in the nineteenth century. “They're not just interested in history. From their point of view, use is the highest form of preservation, and that's what interests young people.”

As part of the project, the association plans to plant new trees nearby and build a 130-foot ADA-accessible ramp and a 14-foot pavilion for visitors.

“There is an awareness now that the night sky is a precious resource and that it is disappearing, the dark night sky,” Bell said. “It disappears due to city lights and the launch of tens of thousands of satellites.”

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