Viewing The Heavens From Our Own Backyard

Living in a densely populated area of the city has its rewards: cultural diversity, a wide array of independent businesses and shops, and potential for a dynamic, vibrant community. But if you happen to be an amateur astronomer, living in the middle of a big city must be a nightmare, right? Well, according to a recent meeting of interested stargazers at Riverside Park, nothing could be further from the truth. Like the Phoenix rising from its ashes, a group once known as the Eastside Astronomy Club has regrouped enthusiastically under the name The Urban Stargazers. The unofficial goal of this group is to gather on a regular basis to do what people have been doing for centuries — look up at the sky! “As a group, we encourage each other to look up and be mindful of the natural wonders in the sky,” says Steve Marshall, a chemistry teacher at Whitefish Bay High School who lives a few blocks from Riverside Park. “We are not experts, but we have plenty of knowledge, interests, resources, and perspectives to share. It’s fun to see what other people in the community are doing and to learn from one another.” The Urban Stargazers encourage anyone and everyone of all ages to attend their gatherings, which are free and open to the community. “You don’t need to own a telescope and you don’t need to know a thing about astronomy,” says Keith Parkansky, a network specialist who created a website and listserve where interested parties can quickly and easily share information. Currently, the group has access to a dozen or so telescopes of just about every size and shape. “One of the best ways to get started in astronomy is to find other people who can point out some of the brightest stars and planets,” says Vic Vargo, a software consultant from the southwest side of Milwaukee. “For this, all you really need is your eyes or maybe a good pair of binoculars.” This year looks to be an especially exciting year for viewing the heavens. Comet NEAT can now be seen just after sunset when the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn provide spectacular viewing, and in August, Mars will be the brightest it has been for thousands of years! The group is currently meeting at 7 p.m. on the last Thursday of each month at the Urban Ecology Center, 2808 N. Bartlett Ave. If the weather is cloudy or rainy, members prepare short presentations on a variety of astronomical subjects. All discussions are at a level that everyone can relate to regardless of their knowledge of astronomy (and all meetings are amply supplied with food, drink and warmth!). One group member put the world of urban astronomy into words very succinctly when she said, “How wonderful it is that right here, in the heart of the city, in my backyard, we can look up and share the wonders of the sky!” We hope that you will join us in our amazement.

If you would like to learn more about the Urban Stargazers, please check out the website ( or contact Tim Vargo at the Urban Ecology Center (964-8505, ).

Rivewest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 3 – March 2003
by Timothy Vargo, Environmental educator at the Urban Ecology Center