The moon, the closest neighbor to Earth, was low in the sky and obscured by a line of trees. So the stargazers looked at Saturn, the farthest planet that can be found by eyes alone.
Without a telescope, it looked like just another speck in the sky. Using the telescope recently donated to the Milford Town Library, Aidan Bushell, 6, could see its telltale rings.
The Milford library is among 10 in the state that now have a telescope available for patrons to check out, just like a book, for a week at a time. Aidan was among the first to see what Milford’s telescope could do with Saturn, a planet that orbits 746 million to 1 billion miles from Earth.
“It looked like a tiny circle, with rings through its middle,” he said. “It was very small.”
The Orion StarBlast telescope has an 8-24mm zoom eyepiece, and comes with materials that will help families identify the planets and constellations of stars, according to Jim Zebrowski, president of the Aldrich Astronomical Society, which has organized an “adopt-a-library” program for Massachusetts modeled after a similar effort in New Hampshire.
In addition to Milford, communities with libraries that have received a telescope through the society’s program include Shrewsbury and Beverly. The program requires the library or a benefactor to purchase the telescope, and Aldrich provides support for staff members and patrons.
The Orion StarBlast reflector telescope weighs about 15 pounds and is designed to be set up on a table, for backyard observations. The device has been modified for the library program to make it more user-friendly, including having its optics aligned with the finder. And all lens caps are attached, so they cannot get misplaced, Zebrowski said.
“It’s a sturdy little telescope,” he said.
In Milford, residents Sue-Ellen and Bob Szymanski donated the $350 telescope to the library. Sue-Ellen, a 28-year employee at the library, is its youth services supervisor. She had learned of the lending telescope program recently, and knew it would be a big hit with the children in town.
Children are fascinated by space, she said, and the telescope will help nurture that interest.
“It’s all about keeping kids and families excited about exploring the solar system,” she said.
To kick off the new acquisition, the library recently hosted a talk by Zebrowski for patrons who might want to use the telescope. The event drew about 25 people, most with young children in tow.
After an introduction to the solar system, and the telescope, Zebrowski and John Root, coordinator of Aldrich’s library telescope program, led the families across the street to the Milford Town Park. The two men set up the library telescope, as well as a larger telescope that Zebrowski had brought to cut down on wait times.
The Orion StarBlast is available for checkout by Milford Town Library card-holders who are 18 or older, Szymanski said. If someone damages or destroys it, they have to pay for a replacement, she said.
That being said, there are few mistakes that can be made with the tabletop telescope, according to Zebrowski. It should never be directed at the sun; a large decal is permanently attached to it to remind users. Other than that, a clear night sky and a sturdy table or other base are the only requirements.
“Take very good care of it, and you’ll have fun looking through the universe,” he said.