The moon was a white splotch against the evening sky as Ileana Chauhan craned her neck to peer into a telescope.
“See all the circular things on the moon?” asked Chris Milford, an organizer of Friday’s Family Astronomy Night, a public event at East Grand Forks' Heritage Village where UND's Northern Sky Astronomical Society deploys telescopes and expertise every month, weather-permitting.
But Chauhan, who briefly debated with her family about whether the moon is a planet or a satellite, wanted to see Jupiter and Saturn.
“It’s not dark enough to see the other planets, yet,” Milford said. “Jupiter and Saturn will be out, but it’s still too bright to see them.”
About an hour later it wasn’t, and Chauhan, her family, and a lengthening line of other Greater Grand Forks residents stretched past the telescope, waiting for their turn to get a closer view of the two planets, which, to the naked eye, were almost imperceptible pinpricks. Dean Smith, a physics and astronomy teacher at the university who advises the society, helped Chauhan note Jupiter’s larger moons, a few of which were visible that night.
“There’s a lot of people that never look through a telescope, never get the chance,” Smith told the Herald as he set up another telescope. “For a lot of people this is their only chance to do it, and so it’s kind of fun to be able to give people that experience.”
Chauhan’s family said they showed up mostly because she noticed a particularly bright star on the Fourth of July. An app told her it was Jupiter, and her interest was piqued.
The Prudhommes said they headed to Family Astronomy night to try something new.
“And see Saturn!” exclaimed Odin Prudhomme, 6. He and Lennon Prudhomme, 10, brought star charts from home.
Smith and Milford hope to ultimately have a more permanent setup than a handful of telescopes in the grass at the Heritage Villages. About 100 yards from where they stood on Friday, a gray dome with a retractable roof sat in a nearby field. It’s part of a disused UND observatory that they hope to ultimately turn into one of the club’s own if -- or when -- members can secure the money to build around it.
They’ve saved the observatory’s original mirror and focuser, but plan to buy a modern “‘scope” when they have enough money. The dream: an 11- to 14-inch Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain telescope with a heavy-duty German equatorial mount capable of robotic control. The price: at least $7,000 for the telescope and mount. They’ve already bought a video camera system with which they could project what the telescope sees into a classroom -- or maybe livestream it on the internet.
The new observatory would be named after Duane Younggren, the chair of the university’s geography department who got it built in 1965, and Charles Wood, the astronomy club’s first adviser.