Saturn the star attraction at this party

  • Joe Delfausse, sets up a telescope at Sherpardson Field in Warwick. Most of his night sky-viewing is done at his other home in Brooklyn. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Warwick Librarian Ivan Ussach trains a telescope on the moon, using a scope with a red dot mounted on top of the telescope. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Locals gathered at Shepardson Field in Warwick on Sunday night for a night sky-viewing party. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2019 10:45:36 PM

WARWICK — Magnified by about 100 times with a telescope, Saturn is a gold pebble, perfectly oval with a thin black circle drawn in the middle for the empty space between the planet itself and its rings.

The oblong shape is caused by the angle of the rings vis-a-vis the Earth, which varies depending on the two planets’ movement around the sun, explains Warwick resident Brian Snell.

“This is some of the best I've seen in years, as far as the rings,” Snell said.

Locals were gathered at Shepardson Field in Warwick on Sunday night for a very quietly advertised stargazing party. Three telescopes were being shared, one newly acquired by the Warwick Library and available for borrowing, the other two belonging to Snell and Joe Delfausse, who lives in Warwick during the summer and in New York City the rest of the year.

The telescopes were set up around 8:30 p.m. when it was still light enough that only the moon was visible. Because the moon is closer to Earth than any other celestial object, it only takes about 50 times magnification to see its craters in crisp detail. Any more than that and the whole moon won’t fit in the telescope’s frame, Delfausse said.

The telescope’s magnification is controlled with interchangeable eyepieces. So greater magnification than what was used on Sunday night is possible. The catch is, Delfausse said, the greater the magnification, the faster the objects will move out of the telescope's frame. The telescopes on Sunday had to be adjusted every few minutes while looking at the planets, and even more frequently while looking at the moon.

Stargazing at home with higher magnification, Snell said, he keeps his hand on the telescope and follows the object’s movement. “If you tell somebody to come on over and look, by the time they get there it’s gone,” he said.

It takes a bit of practice, but using the telescope is easy enough. On top of it is an aiming scope with a red dot in the middle. To view an object you line up the red dot, then do the fine tuning while looking through the telescope.

As the light dims, planets appear. At this time of year Jupiter and Saturn are in our line of sight, visible to the naked eye as very bright and slightly off-color stars. With the telescope at about 100 times magnification, four of Jupiter’s moons were visible Sunday night, as points of white light in line with the planet.

Most of the time when Delfausse uses his telescope, he sets it up on a street corner outside his apartment in Brooklyn. These planets are so bright that even in New York City they’re perfectly visible. The stars, further away, are mostly blocked by the city’s lights.

Delfausse’s favorite part of the hobby is introducing it to new people, he said. Outside his apartment one night, a concert in a nearby park had just ended and people were leaving. A woman passing by asked about what he was doing, so he showed her.

“This woman looked up and she saw the rings of Saturn,” Delfausse said. “She said, ‘Oh my God. You’ve changed my life.’”

“Ninety-nine percent of people never look through a telescope. They have no idea,” Delfausse said. “What the library has here is great.”

Opinions on how best to use the telescope vary. Snell spoke highly of using a high-magnification eyepiece in late-night pitch dark, following a single planet for lengths of time to see it in detail.

“To me,” Delfausse said, "borrowing it for a night and taking it home isn’t what it’s about. It’s having these star parties.”

Reach Max Marcus at or 413-772-0261 ext. 261.

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