Things are looking up

The local friends of the Library and PTO presented Astronomy for Everyone: The Size and Scale of the Universe Monday night at the community center


Max Miller

Ron Garver, far right, helps Manning adjust the settings on his telescope prior to the post-lecture star-gazing session.

People say Wyoming is blustery, but as about 35 people gathered at the community center learned May 2, it's nothing compared to Neptune and its 1,000 mph winds. Traveling astronomer Kevin Manning was making a swing through the Good Times Valley to share his love of the stars, and he sprinkled the two hour presentation he delivered Monday night with many such fun facts.

Following a career spent scouring the skies with Brookhaven National Laboratories, as well as working on projects such as the orbital Chandra x-ray observatory and contracting for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Manning decided to hit the road in 2009. Embarking on an educational "Star Tour USA," Manning now makes his living traveling the nation delivering speeches to groups of students and other interested parties. Manning also sells two books he has written at these presentations: "101 Fun Facts About Astronomy," and "The Complete Guide to Building Your Own 8-Inch Telescope."

Entitled "Astronomy for Everyone: Size and Scale of the Universe," the talk was a romp across the solar system and beyond. Each planet in our solar system (yes, including Pluto) was given a thorough overview during the presentation, and a slide show helped attendees visualize the wonders Manning described.

Manning's fondness for studying the skies was evident in the strong views he expressed. The astronomer made a passionate argument for Pluto being classified as a planet, though he noted that the International Astronomical Union relegated the Kuiper Belt Object to "dwarf planet" status in 2006.

For someone who devoted his life to studying space, Manning was also quite bearish on the prospect of humans leaving the planet. On settling Mars, Manning said, "My take on that is, why don't we just take care of our mother earth and we won't have to go to other worlds like Mars." Several clips illustrating the stunning array of diverse life on earth emphasized the precious and unique nature of our planet.

The Saratoga Friends of the Library and Saratoga Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization combined funds to sponsor Manning's visit. Earlier in the afternoon, Manning had presented at the elementary school.

Following his lecture, Manning took attendees out to the community center parking lot and dimmed the overhead lights. He then took a large telescope out of his van, carefully adjusted its settings and directed it at various objects in the sky. Luckily, the weather was cooperative, and students and parents alike got a chance to gaze up at the marvels above unimpeded by clouds or moonlight.

Max Miller

Astronomer Kevin Manning shows off a pair of binoculars that magnify the night sky at 80x the power of the naked eye.


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