Keeping an eye on the sky

Bellmore Library launches telescope program

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As a “sidewalk astronomer,” Tom Lynch often meanders the streets of Lynbrook, telescope at his side, sharing with any interested passerby a brief, intimate glimpse of the night sky. It’s a hobby of his, he said.

Lynch, who wants to increase awareness of what lies among the stars, has teamed up with several libraries to bring astronomy equipment to their collections. Most recently, he helped the Bellmore Memorial Library do just that.

The library’s newest piece of equipment, an Orion StarBlast Astro Reflector Telescope — selected with Lynch’s help — is now available for patrons 18 and older. It can be borrowed, just like any book, for two weeks at a time.

The library purchased the telescope for $199.99, according to Jessica Premuto, head of the Children’s Department. Those who borrow it will also receive an instruction manual, a map of the moon, a planisphere and two guides for star observing.

Lynch has set up similar programs in other area libraries, including Lynbrook, Rockville Centre and Wantagh. Often the facilities approach him asking for help, he said, and he assists the staff in choosing a telescope that fits the program. As a member of the Nassau County-based astronomy club the Amateur Observers’ Society of New York, Lynch is the “go-to” guy for introducing equipment — and he does it on a free, voluntary basis, he said.

On April 15, Lynch presented telescope basics to a group of library patrons of all ages. His No. 1 rule when using the telescope: “Do not look at the sun,” he warned. The primary body patrons should be observing, he added, is the moon. It’s a perfect sight to see, he said — although the new telescope does not have the zooming capabilities of higher-end scopes, the textures of the moon’s surface still stand out.

In front of the library’s filled program room, Lynch displayed pictures of craters, dips and other terrain on the moon’s surface that are visible from Earth. If users can avoid light pollution and catch the moon on its brightest nights, these features can be seen through the telescope, he said.

In its standard form, the device’s attachments can be removed, with all equipment fitting into a storage case. Because of its public use, however, the single zoom lens and sight adjuster are permanently affixed to the library’s telescope. Strings keep the lens cover from being misplaced.

Because of the lack of a case, the custom telescope requires special care, and should be carried “almost like a baby,” Lynch said, adding that it needs to be securely strapped in during transport.

He brought the group outside to look at the nighttime moon, and several children attendees squirmed with excitement. The conditions were not ideal, with some cloud cover, and the surrounding suburban lighting obscuring the stars.

Elementary-schoolers McKayla Corey, Gianna Youngson and Taylor Shea could hardly stand still. They lined up for multiple chances to see the bright globe in the sky. Describing what she saw, Shea said the surface looked “bumpy and rough.” Corey couldn’t wait for her turn to borrow the telescope in the coming weeks, she said.

Two other young Bellmorites, Giovanni Lopez and Ishaan Ranga, approached the equipment with trepidation, but glimpses of the moon put smiles on their faces.

The telescope also attracted older patrons, including Bellmore’s Jerry Altman, 74, who looked forward to his chance to borrow the telescope after looking through it.

Interested Bellmore Library cardholders can visit the front desk to take out the telescope.