The Amateur Astronomers Association (AAA) of New York came to the Evergreens Cemetery this past Friday, September 17, for their annual Fall Starfest. Members set up their telescopes by the public house where they shared their views of the celestial bodies in the sky that night, particularly Jupiter and Saturn, the largest of the outer planets. 

It wasn’t the association’s first time hosting a stargazing event at the cemetery, a national historic landmark made up of 255 acres of gently rolling hills. For the budding astronomer, the location offers “commanding open area views, free of glare from local lighting, where the majority of the urban night sky can be seen.”

Kelly Elivo, marketing chair for the association, expressed excitement over the event’s location. “We want to be respectful to the history of this landmark and at that same time, take advantage. There aren’t many places like this in New York City.”

“You’ll be able to see Saturn’s rings — Jupiter’s moons. And the moon itself will be out as well, and it’s in a really nice phase right now,” Rori Baldari, a member of the Amateur Astronomers Association for the past 12 years, told Bushwick Daily. The moon was in its waxing gibbous phase with 87 percent illumination. 

Bart Fried, standing nearest the eyepiece of the telescope, explains what people are seeing. 

As a member of the nonprofit organization, Baldari has done public outreach and stargazing in New York City’s five boroughs. “Nobody should pay to see the beauty of the Universe so almost all our events are free and open to the public,” she said. “The club’s mission is to promote the awareness of the science of astronomy from within an urban environment both to stress its inspirational and cultural value.”   

New York’s Amateur Astronomers Association was founded in 1927 and according to its newly revamped website, the organization sponsors lectures at the American Museum of Natural History, provides affordable classes in astronomy to members, and has a regularly updated news journal called “Eyepiece.” The site also lists all of the Association’s planned events throughout the city such as this past stargazing event in Bushwick at the Dekalb Library. 

At the event was Bart Fried, the executive vice president of the Association, who could be found peering through his telescope. The two were a popular attraction with people taking turns to gaze upwards through the “old ‘scope,” which was built in 1903 according to Fried.

“I tried to buy it for 30 years from this fella who had retired to Maine,” Fried said. “I would call him about every five years.” Then, a friend in New York told him of a telescope at an auction in Pennsylvania. It was only after he won it that Fried realized that it was that same telescope, now being auctioned off because its owner had passed away. “I offered him a lot more money than what I paid at the auction,” Fried continued, chuckling.

Jupiter (left), the moon (center) and Saturn (right) could be seen even through a smartphone camera lens.

“We are New York astronomers,” Fried said. “Almost 95 percent of our members live in the city in the five boroughs, and we have about 650 members right now, and it’s been slowly increasing.”

Fried told Bushwick Daily that he hopes more people realize that urban astronomy is practicable. “You can do astronomy in the city. Even little kids can study astronomy,” he said. “So if they have a small telescope, they can study the moon. They can see the larger planets when they’re up. They can study double stars and variable stars. I live in Queens, and I observe from my backyard all the time and there are literally several hundred objects that you can see from New York City.”

“And then when you get the opportunity, you go to a dark site and you can see more,” Fried continued. Though light pollution has certainly hindered astronomical observations for those living in cities, there are ways to optimize the night sky’s visibility with little planning. Relatively dark areas work best, but rooftops work just as well if living in a congested area. The higher, the better.

While people looked through telescopes, David Kiefer, an astronomy class instructor, gave a lecture on the possible views of the night among other astronomical objects, which included constellations, asterisms (a small group of stars often found within constellations), zodiac signs, the sun and galaxies. People sat on the grass or in lawn chairs to watch.

The moon through the lens of Fried’s telescope.

The night’s events also included a raffle of which there were several prizes, including a telescope, and music was provided by Dazzle Ships. The registration and raffle tables were managed by Elivo. 

The idea of using cemeteries as a recreational community space is not a new concept. In the 18th and 19th centuries, cemeteries were built not only as “places of beauty, remembrance and worship,” but as public parks. The Fall Starfest is just one example of Evergreens Cemetery’s commitment to this idea.

To join the Amateur Astronomers Association and partake in the lectures, classes, and events they have to offer, you can sign up here.

Editor’s Note: Minor typographical errors corrected (hyperlinks, spelling and quote that was mistakenly removed).

All photos by Allie Herrera.

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