A Night in the Stars
2018-06-10 18:09:02.000 – Emily Tunkel, Summer Intern
Good evening MWO! My name is Emily Tunkel and I am currently on my fifth day as a summer intern at the observatory. I normally attend Brown University as an astronomy and mathematics concentrator, so learning this much about meteorology and working up on the summit has been an experience, even this early into the summer.
We’ve had some unusually clear days here on the summit, and I couldn’t be happier. When I first arrived on Wednesday, the fog was so prevalent that if I looked out the window of the Weather Room, I could only see around 200 feet past our office. And while the rocks on the ground were very interesting, I – like most people who come to visit – was interested in one thing. The sky.
As an astronomy student, the sky has always fascinated me. It’s common to find me walking the streets of Providence at night, head tilted back, trying to find something – anything – in the city sky. Despite moving around a lot as a kid, I had always lived somewhere with light pollution; whether the suburbs of Philadelphia, or the Jersey shore, or the densely populated towns of Rhode Island. Never had I experienced the prevailing darkness that Mount Washington could offer me.
After dinner, many of the staff members stay up to watch the sunset together, especially on a clear night. On Friday, the first in-the-clear day I had seen, I watched the sunset with everyone and decided to stay up a little longer to experience the Milky Way for the first time. Although you can easily see Orion from Providence, it’s hard to really see anything else.
On most nights, I go to sleep around 9PM in order to prepare for my starting morning shift at 6:30AM. On Friday, I went out first at 9:45PM (way past my bedtime) to try to locate some constellations.
Despite the fact that the sky hadn’t fully darkened from sunset, there were still more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I located Orion immediately (surprisingly faint compared to RI) and the Big Dipper. I found Cassiopeia in the northeastern sky, and Cancer in the southwest. In my room at home, I have glow-in-the-dark stars taped to my ceiling in the shape of the constellations. Locating them in the real night sky was indescribable.
Even though I was exhausted, the night observers convinced me to stay up later to get the real experience. After petting Marty for an hour, I went out onto the deck again at 11PM. The darkness was incredible by itself – I never knew that the world could become that empty. My life had been shaped by city streetlamps and the light of incoming cars.
Around thirty seconds after shutting the door to the observatory, we saw a shooting star.
I thought it was a plane at first, but after I realized the truth my mouth dropped. It dropped even lower as my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw – for the first time – the gray space dust of our galaxy making a streak through the northeastern sky. The amount of stars in the sky was unbelievable. I couldn’t even find any constellations because there were too many other stars. Did I let out a few tears? Possibly. I won’t lie.
I’m hoping for more nights like that, even when it’s foggy out – nights where I’m amazed by the conditions up here and I’m amazed by the sky and I’m amazed by what Mount Washington can give me. The good thing is I have the whole summer left to experience it all!
Emily Tunkel, Summer Intern