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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Seeing Stars with Dean Regas

The majestic Observatory Center 
By Mary Casey-Sturk

The Cincinnati Observatory is both a local and national treasure. Dubbed, “The Birthplace of American Astronomy,” the Observatory contains one of the oldest working telescopes in the country and was also the first public observatory in the western hemisphere. The historic buildings on this lovely site nestled in Mt. Lookout are designated National Historic Landmarks.

The Observatory’s telescope has always been close to the hearts of Cincinnatians, who rallied behind Cincinnati professor Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel in 1842 who led the charge to raise the money to purchase it. Locals from all walks of life contributed to this effort, often giving $25 apiece (equal to a months’ salary at the time).

The Observatory was opened in its original location in Mt. Ida (now Mt. Adams) in November of 1843 with former President John Quincy Adams presiding over the ceremony. Later, in 1873, the Observatory moved to its current location to avoid downtown pollution. The original lens was purchased in Munich and a second, larger unit, was added in 1904.

Today’s Observatory remains open to the public with events, classes and activities for all ages -  including the popular Late Night Date Nights and the monthly Cosmic Kids. Visitors come from beyond Cincinnati and it’s become a landmark destination for tourists.

Ohio Historical Marker in front of the Observatory Center
Dean Regas has served as the Outreach Astronomer since 2000 and has authored three books on the subject, lectured and was the co-host of the PBS weekly series, Star Gazers for the last nine years before exiting in late 2019. During that time, he wrote, produced and starred in over 900 episodes shown on over 100 television stations around the world.  Regas is a renowned educator who has popularized astronomy. As an expert in observational astronomy, his books help even novices explore the night sky.

Hyde Park Living visited the Cincinnati Observatory and spoke with Regas about his work, his plans, and those heavenly bodies.

Now that Regas has moved on from Star Gazers, does he have any new plans in the works? Regas shares, “I’ll be focusing on all the education programs here at the Observatory, leading those, continuing the Looking Up podcast, which are a great way to get the word out.

“And the other project I’m working on is writing some books….quite a few,” adding, “I really like writing a lot, getting back to writing books is going to be fun’ and I still write for the Cincinnati Enquirer also”.

Does Regas have his own favorite places to view the stars? “Well, I definitely am partial to the Observatory, of course.  It’s a great place with these old telescopes! People come from all over the city to see them and get excited, and that gets me motivated.

“When I want to get away and see stars myself, I go out to the National Parks including the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake National Park - and the closest spot to here with really great dark sky to see the stars is the Upper Peninsula in Michigan.”

How does the novice get started star gazing? “What I usually recommend to get people used to the night skies is to go out five nights. I call it the ‘five night challenge.’ Just go outside and take it in. Try to identify some of the constellations, the major patterns, watch the stars and how they move during the course of the night. It’s a great way to decompress - a lot of people don’t take the time to look up.”

Regas further suggests, “Do that a couple nights in a row, you start to link things together. After five nights, something will happen.”

Dean Regas with one of the Observatory’s historic telescopes
If you’re interested in buying your first telescope, Regas recommends not buying the cheapest one. One in the $150-$200 range will get you started with a nice unit for kids and adults to enjoy. Moving up to the $400 range, you’ll get a better model. Binoculars are also a great tool.  Telescopes come in various sizes, some portable and some more suited for kids.

Were you always interested in astronomy? States Regas, “No, I started later in life, after college, I did not study astronomy in college. It came later as a part- time job, then a full-time job, then a career. I found my calling.”  Regas, originally from Columbus, Ohio, has been a Cincinnati resident since moving here to attend Xavier University where he studied History and Secondary Education. This plays well into his role as Outreach Astronomer. “Astronomy is a big and difficult subject, I try to make it as approachable as possible.”

Why is the Cincinnati Observatory so important? Regas notes, “It’s such a unique place...We’re five miles from downtown and we have a great population we can serve. We don’t have the darkest skies, but we have two great telescopes. There are so many people that have never looked through a telescope, and we want to make it as accessible as possible. There is lot of history to the building, astronomy, the architecture.  It has a great vibe, and many remark on how cool it is. It’s a privilege to keep this going.”

Regas notes that while he is moving on from Star Gazers, he wants to thank the viewers for their support and hopes to find new ways to get astronomy into peoples’ lives. “It’s great to see how the Observatory has grown over the last ten years. More people know about it than did before.  The reach has been around the world”.

Visit the Cincinnati Observatory and you’ll soon have stars in your eyes!

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