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UP CLOSE: Look to the heavens with stargazer David Craig

October 12, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer (gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

KEENE - David Craig has a tackle box and a crosshair scope, but he's not a fisherman or a hunter. Instead of hooks, flies and lures, he has wrenches and magnifying glasses, and the crosshairs aren't for targeting bucks; they're for targeting celestial bodies.

Craig is a stargazer.

A couple of times a month, Craig will take his 8-inch SchmidtCassegrain telescope to Norton Cemetery off Route 9N. Among the tombstones and memorial sites, he directs his focus upward at a slew of astronomical objects - Polaris, Mars, Saturn, the Milky Way Galaxy. Sometimes it hurts his neck, but it's a small price to pay.

Article Photos

Stargazer David Craig attaches a viewing lens to his telescope at Norton Cemetery in Keene Friday, Oct. 5.
(News photo β€” Griffin Kelly)

"On a clear enough night, you can even see the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye," he said.

On the night of Friday, Oct 5, clouds blocked the sky. Only a handful of stars such as Polaris and Vega, two of the brightest stars in their respective constellations, were visible. A few moments later, though, and the clouds had passed, the sky opened up and everything was clear. The Milky Way was a hazy band of white light comprised of billions of rocky and gaseous bodies.

Craig moved to Keene about 18 years ago from his hometown of Boston. One of the first things he noticed was how dark and beautiful the sky was.

"There's very little light pollution compared to any urban center," he said. "The first time I saw the Milky Way is when I came up here. It's just an awesome sight.

"If you look at a satellite photo from NASA," he continued, "you can see sort of a black hole where the Adirondacks is. Every place around any urban population is terribly light polluted, so we're losing the night sky rapidly."

To avoid adding any light himself, Craig wears a red headlamp when he sets up his telescope. Red isn't as bright and doesn't obstruct your ability to see in the dark the way white light does.

Norton Cemetery is an ideal spot for stargazing, Craig said. There is little light pollution from Keene and Lake Placid. When clouds are low enough, city lights can reflect off them, making the sky look brighter.

Sometimes he goes out alone, and sometimes he brings friends and neighbors and gives informational sessions. He runs a website called neophyteastronomer.org, where he has information on telescopes and stargazing and photos of the night sky.

"The only thing you could do is try to raise people's awareness of [light pollution]," he said. "That's one of the things that I'm doing out here by inviting people. When I get people out here to see the beautiful night sky and appreciate it, that's probably the best you can do because they'll take that feeling home with them."

His telescope is large and high-tech. A computer attached to the device is loaded with tracking systems for thousands of stars, planets and other objects. As opposed to manually star hopping, Craig just has to find a few anchor points in the sky, and then the telescope moves around automatically. He tells the scope to search for Vega, the brightest star in the Lyra constellation. With a hum and a whir, the telescope began to position itself until it was aiming straight up at the ball of burning hydrogen and helium 25.05 light years away.

Then he sets his focus on Messier 57, the Ring Nebula. It's an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases. To the naked eye, the Ring Nebula doesn't look like much of anything, but with his massive telescope and a long-exposure camera, it looks like a small bright blue doughnut of deep space gases. This is the first object he saw when he originally got interested in stargazing.

As he positioned the equatorial wedge, a piece that assists with long-exposure photography, to the tripod, Craig explained how he first got started in stargazing.

"I wanted to introduce my son Peter to a science," he said. "We got a four-and-a-half-inch telescope at a toy store. It was a display model. To me, it was the best telescope I'd ever seen. It wasn't one of the little cheap junky ones you find at Walmart. It was actually a half-way decent Newtonian reflector."

The Newtonian reflector telescope, named after its creator and British astronomer Sir Isaac Newton, uses curved mirrors instead of lenses to capture light.

"Lenses distort the colors, and they also get awful heavy once they get bigger," Craig said, "so mirrors have those advantages."

Peter took a liking to viewing the night sky with his father.

"In fact, he's making a career out of it," Craig said. "He's studying astrophysics. He just graduated from [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York,] with dual majors in math and physics. Just this fall he started at [Rochester Institute of Technology] for graduate work.

"I never thought looking through the telescope with my son would instill such a desire in him," he continued. "He really likes it, so I think that's cool."

 
 

 

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