Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

‘We’re just a small dot,’ stargazer says

By BILL McKEOWN - THE GAZETTE Updated: April 1, 2006 at 12:00 am
Alan Gorski has found nebulas, star clusters and galaxies through the eyepiece of his 7-foot high deepspace telescope. He’s also found humility: “When you see how big things are out there, we are nothing.
Nothing.” That’s the inescapable conclusion of a man who has peered through the dust and distance of our own Milky Way Galaxy to see the Sombrero Galaxy, a hat-shaped cluster of stars and planets flung across the sky 28 million light years away. And even that distant body was just a glimpse of the 2 million galaxies that have been counted, and those are just a tiny fraction of the 50 billion to 100 billion galaxies that many astronomers believe exist in the universe. Gorski and other members of the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society will be in Bear Creek Regional Park tonight with their telescopes to give the public a glimpse of the wonders to be found in the sky. It’ll be up to viewers to decide the degree of their own insignificance. The sky — far and near — has long held a fascination for Gorski. He spent hours as a boy in Olympia, Wash., star- ing at the moon through the lens of a store-bought telescope. At 16, he got his pilot’s license and eventually became an air traffic controller. Gorski began working at the Colorado Springs Airport in 1997. By 2001, the father of two daughters was approaching that fragile age when men buy Porsches or Rogaine or book kayak trips to Bora Bora. Not Gorski. Long fascinated with science and math and remembering the feeling he got peering at the moon as a youth, he decided it was time to buy a Dobsonian Truss Tube. The telescope is made by AstroSystems, a small company in LaSalle. The telescope houses a custom-made, $1,600 concave mirror in the bottom of a box made of three-quarter inch, aircraft-grade birch. Aluminum tubes sheathed in black cloth rise out of the box to a circular aperture at the top. There, a second mirror gathers light from the bottom mirror and directs it into two finding scopes and an eyepiece. An electronic module loaded with the coordinates of thousands of objects in space allows Gorski to align the scope where he wants. The scope, which took Astro-Systems seven months to build, is powerful enough to capture some planets during daylight and can show the gaps between Saturn’s rings if the planet is tilted just right. All telescopes are simply light gatherers, Gorski said, and his nearly $5,000, cannon-shape machine gathers it so efficiently it hurts his eyes to view a full moon. “This isn’t something you can buy in a store,” he said. Gorski has taken his telescope to schools and Boy Scout meetings to introduce kids to space. Hundreds have peered through his eyepiece at public stargazing events such as the one to be held tonight. He isn’t sure what conclusions others have drawn from touching the heavens with his telescope. But his take: “When you look at the size of our planet and realize there are massive galaxies bigger than ours out there, you have to wonder,” he said. “We’re just a small dot. How can we be the only life? “I think we’re not alone. How can we be?” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0197 or bill.mckeown@gazette.com STARGAZING EVENTS The Colorado Springs Astronomical Society will hold a number of public star parties in the coming months. The events begin at nightfall and last until 10 or 11 p.m.: - Tonight, Bear Creek Park, 21st Street and W. Rio Grande Street, east end of fenced-in garden. - May 19, Palmer Park - June 17, Bear Creek Park - July 28, Fox Run Park - Aug. 19, Bear Creek Park - Sept. 29, Palmer Park - Oct. 14, location to be determined For more information, go to www. csastro.org.
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