Chesterton Tribune



Larry Silvestri gazes at the stars while there is still time

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Losing the night? Larry Silvestri, of Michigan City, set up his 12 inch Newtonian reflecting telescope in the parking lot of Indiana Dunes State Park Thursday evening and offered those gathered exceptional views of the moon and stars. Walt Rearick, (left) of Chesterton, arrived in time to watch Silvestri put the telescope together while he explained its workings. Silvestri said he opposes new development at the beach because it threatens a unique resource-the absence of light. Only in a dark spot can the night sky be fully observed. If buildings and streetlights are built, the star gazing possible here will be lost, Silvestri said. (Tribune photo by Margaret L. Willis)



Astronomy enthusiast Larry Silvestri, of Michigan City, took advantage of unusually clear skies Thursday evening to set up his 12 inch Newtonian reflecting telescope at the Indiana Dunes State Park.

“This may be one of the few chances left to have a really good view,” Silvestri said, “street lights here will ruin it,” he said of the current plans by the DNR and Pavilion Partners to build a banquet center at the beach.

Streetlights, building lights, and increased vehicle headlights will create what is known as a light dome.

“Light travels in all directions,” Silvestri explained. “Up, down, sideways.”

Since last night was unusually clear and calm; with little wind, and low particulate matter in the air; it made for great viewing, so Silvestri posted to friends on Facebook (and those friends shared) that he would be setting up his telescope in the IDSP parking lot for anyone to catch a view, and hoping they’d see what he sees--the irreplaceable value of the natural night.

Silvestri, a telephone technician, is a graduate of the University of Illinois, with a degree in math and computer science. In his free time he builds telescopes. “I’ve been building telescopes since I was about 14 years old,” he said.

The telescope he was using Thursday weighs over 200 pounds and features a gravity balanced equatorial mount with a hand built frame.

What one can see through it is wondrous--what look like stripes on Jupiter, the bright side of Venus, the exquisite details of the cratered surface of the crescent moon. Silvestri also trained the telescope on the Orion Nebula, and the Hercules Star Cluster.

Silvestri was joined by fellow astronomy bug Ed Pokorny, also of Michigan City, who brought star gazing binoculars. Pokorny’s instrument also provided fabulous views of the night sky, and of one thing at the horizon line too, the city of Chicago, recently named the biggest, brightest, light dome on the planet. As the night sky darkened, the light dome became visible.

That’s one of the things that makes the Dunes State Park so special, said Silvestri. It’s a little pocket of darkness, fairly close to a huge light pollution source.

“The next closest spot like this is over an hour away,” he said, “at Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge.” And that location isn’t open all year round, he added.

Jade Starmapper of the Challenger Learning Center, (aka Sue Petersen, of Chesterton), brought her son Trevor out for the star gazing, and also expressed hopes that the development proposed at the dunes can be stopped. “The stars belong to everyone,” she said, as curious people stopped their cars and joined the gathering to take a peek.

“The State Park brags about the night sky visibility,’” said Starmapper, “we need to be sure we don’t lose that.”

Walt Rearick, of Chesterton, was part of the crowd. He said the DNR approved plans to build on the beach are “appalling.” People come for the quiet, the dunes, the birds, the sunsets, the night sky. “This is worth protecting,” he said, making the point that if construction and additional lighting are allowed, stargazing at the State Park will be lost.

Sylvestri said that recently the town of Beverly Shores completed a Dark Skies Initiative, one of only eight cities worldwide so far to do so. The town undertook the effort to protect the nearby Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore from light pollution.

The irony, Sylvestri said, is that now that the town has reduced their light footprint, the State Park poses a threat to their dark sky.


Posted 4/24/2015




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