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My girl’s got questions. Lots of them. I used to be able to answer quite a few and fudge the rest, but now that she is the wise old age of five many of her questions are out of my area of expertise. There are only so many times a day where you can say “I don’t know” and not begin to feel inadequate. To make matters worse, after learning about the solar system at school, she was left with more questions than answers especially regarding stars and black holes. From what I gather, even NASA isn’t sure what a black hole is so I didn’t feel too badly when I once again did not know the answer. Madison, however, was not satisfied. So, I did what my mother would have done in this situation: I found a class at our local planetarium and signed us up.

 

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SUNY New Paltz hosts a free Astronomy Night on the first and third Thursdays of every month that school is in session. It begins with a 45 minute show in the planetarium and each Astronomy Night has a different focus, but they all start with a basic explanation of where and how our solar system and galaxy exist. The show then ends with a current event topic and for us that was a new revelation about the Big Bang Theory. It is presented by the chair of the Astronomy Department and a student. I was amazed at how smart this college kid was and the depth of his knowledge regarding all things space and his ability to translate it all for us non-experts. Some parts of the show were over Madison’s head (shameless pun intended), but she was still enraptured by the “movie” for the duration of the show. However, she still doesn’t quite grasp the concept of whispering, but no one seemed to mind her slightly loud questions.

 

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After the show, we headed down to the Smolen Observatory to utilize their high powered telescopes and hopefully catch a glimpse of some stars and planets. We were not dissappointed. There, volunteers manned the telescopes, and we were able to not only see Jupitor but also its bands and two of its moons. We learned in the planeterium that one of Jupitor’s moons, Europa, has water under its surface which was very interesting and then to actually see that moon was pretty amazing. This was Madison’s favorite part of the night, and she was begging to visit again as she drifted off to sleep on the ride home.

 

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Astronomy Night is free but you must reserve your tickets ahead of time. Tickets become available exactly one week before the show, and they go quickly. Good news is they will open up a second showing if the first sells out. Right now, the first show begins at 7:30 but the time changes based on when the sun sets. The observatory is difficult to find and isn’t on the campus directory. After the show, follow signs for the soccer fields, park in South Parking Lot #35 and then follow the path into the abyss. Just kidding. Not really. It’s a very dark path leading away from civilization, and you will feel like you are going in the wrong direction but I assure you- you are not. It has to be dark for obvious reasons. Definitely look up and witness the starry sky on your walk. You will be amazed to see how much we are missing out on due to light pollution. Astronomy Night was the perfect answer to Madison’s questions and the perfect way to spend an evening with our girl.

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