Events, People, Photos

Arlington Astronomy Nights

The year was 2003. Jeffrey Alexander stood in line to look through a telescope on the roof of the garage of the Museum of Science. Mars was passing particularly close to earth. He, along with many others, wanted to see it. It tickled his fancy, he says, that so many people were excited to gather for this celestial event.

In 2005, Earth and Mars were due to be close to each other again. Alexander, who had recently moved to Arlington, decided to have a viewing party at Robbins Farm Park. He teamed up with Friends of Robbins Farm Park, the Arlington Recreation Department, and some locals with telescopes to make it happen. Over the next 2 years, he threw a couple more stargazing parties. Leslie Mayer, a member of the Park & Recreation Commission, suggested that Alexander should start a regular series of stargazing events so it would be easier to get permits from the town. And so Arlington Astronomy Nights was born.

For 11 years now, Alexander has hosted 4 or 5 Arlington Astronomy Nights every summer. At its busiest, 70 to 80 people might show up. Astronomy Night is popular with parents and their kids, but amateur astronomers and passersby of all ages come to look through Alexander’s telescope.

“Plenty of teens in the park want nothing to do with us, but some take a peek and will allow themselves a little sense of wonder at the world that they’ve been socially molded to pretend doesn’t move them. If they’re like me, they can’t help but feel a brief sense of the smallness and insignificance when gazing at objects vastly, incomprehensibly larger than themselves,” Alexander says.

This past Saturday was the last Astronomy Night planned for this summer. Clouds covered up the moon and Jupiter, the night’s main features, but Alexander entertained the crowd by sharing a map of the moon with them, showing them Zakim Bridge in Boston and the stars Mizar and Alcor in the constellation Ursa Major through the telescope, and handing out glow sticks.

There’lll be more Astronomy Nights next summer. Those interested in attending future stargazing events can sign up for Astronomy Nights emails online. Mars will be having another close approach with Earth next fall, too.

Jeffrey Alexander breaks down his telescope at the end of this September’s Astronomy Night.

Alexander, who studied computer science in college, now leads a software team at Oracle Labs. Astronomy may be a hobby for him, but it’s easy to tell from the way he talks about it that it’s close to his heart and he loves to share it with others.

“There’s really nothing better than the exclamations I hear and expressions I see on peoples’ faces the first time they look through the telescope,” he says. “Sharing the passion that I have for observing the night sky, even if just for a moment at a time, makes it worth doing year after year.”

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Events, Photos, Places

Independence Day at Robbins Farm Park

Arlington does not do its own Independence Day fireworks, though sometimes it will bust out a few for Town Night after Town Day in September. But every year on July 4th, Boston launches a large fireworks display over the Esplanade. And every July 4th, Arlingtonians gather at Robbins Farm Park to watch them.

Robbins Farm, about seven miles away from the Esplanade, is located high on the east side of the tallest hill in Arlington Heights (the Park Circle Water Tower is at the hill’s peak). When the air is clear, most of the city of Boston is visible from the park. Locals call it Skyline Park. And Skyline offers a surprising view of anything happening above Boston and Cambridge, from a pink sunrise to a fireworks show.

In the past, Arlington has hosted a formal event at Robbins Farm on Independence Day, with an inflatable screen to show televised coverage of the annual Boston Pops concert and subsequent pyrotechnics. However, the grass on the park’s recently refurbished sports fields has been too fragile to support the event’s heavy foot traffic for a few years, and the town has fenced those areas off. A large audience showed up to watch anyway, avoiding the fenced areas to set out blankets and beach chairs. An ice cream truck offered refreshments against the hot, humid night.

Children ran through the slippery grass as their parents called cautions after them. Distance dampened the fireworks’ explosions to muffled pops. It was a pleasant, quiet alternative to the crowded chaos of going to see the fireworks on the Esplanade itself.

As fun as the fireworks may have been, an uncritical celebration of America felt more inappropriate than ever in 2019. This country is doing horrible things to the people who migrate here for safety. Arlington is far from America’s southern border, but ICE is detaining community members in the Boston area too. The Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network is working to free people being held in the South Bay Detention Center and support their families. You can read more about their efforts, donate to them, or volunteer to help through their website.

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