Chasing comets over Mount Greylock


ADAMS -- Bascom Lodge sits at the summit of Mount Greylock, 3,491 feet closer to the rest of the universe than someone standing on a pier in Boston Harbor. This makes it a unique place for stargazing and other astronomy events. In the next week, the lodge will host two gatherings by local experts who will bring the stars closer to those in the valleys below.

Lodge manager and Talk and Dine program coordinator Peter Dudek said the two speakers -- Bill Minardi, a retired professor from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and Kevin Collins, president of the Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association -- are well known to astronomy devotees in western Massachusetts.

"Bill Minardi and Kevin Collins have given astronomy talks at Bascom Lodge in the past," Dudek said. "Bill is a lively speaker, and Kevin is passionate about astronomy and will also inform visitors how to join local astronomy clubs."

Minardi will speak Sunday about "The Universe and the Anthropic Principle."

He will talk about the universe, its organization, and whether it formed by coincidence or was "designed."

The talk "will show how, when numbers are doubled in a series, the sum becomes enormous," Minardi said. "The early universe expanded by doubling many times in a brief instant."

The organization of space, he said, refers to how humans perceive it to be organized.

"Other civilizations may be out there -- and older than ours -- who perceive a different kind of organization," he said. "In our organization, we can compare sizes and distances of various parts of our universe."

The Anthropic Principle, Minardi's second major subject of the evening, means that if many of the constants of the universe were only slightly different, there would be no life. These constants include the force of gravity, the size of the proton and neutron, and the expansion of the universe.

"Does this mean that the universe is a coincidence, or was it planned?" Minardi asked. "It is believed that there are many other universes with different characteristics, perhaps including life."

Collins will follow on Wednesday as a guide to understanding the stars and joining local astronomy groups. He will also touch on the much-anticipated Comet ISON, whose appearance in the northern hemisphere in late November and December could rival Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake. (Collins said ISON is named for its discoverer, the International Scientific Optical Network.)

He will give a tour of the major constellations visible in the fall from mid-northern latitudes, he said, using planetarium software, and if the sky is clear he will lead a short observing session outside the lodge after dinner.

"We will then use those constellations to show simple star hopping to a few of the more prominent Messier objects and brighter planets," he said.

As he shows the objects, he will explain each one. Messier objects are entities that look like comets, but are not, he said. They were first recorded by the 18th-century French astronomer Charles Messier, a comet-hunter and ardent sky-watcher. His list, expanded by others, now holds diffuse nebulae, planetary nebulae, open clustersof stars, globular clusters, and galaxies.

Contemporary comet-hunters can look forward to Comet Ison, which will arrive in late fall, Collins said. On Nov. 28 Ison will be its closest to the sun, just 680,000 miles away; that will allow it to appear far brighter than at its 2012 discovery. He said that later, through December, Comet Ison will cross into the northern sky, possibly with an impressive tail.

"We will briefly talk about the comet, its origins and orbit, and what we may see come November and December," he said.

The star viewing after dinner requires no special equipment, and he will have one or two telescopes set up after the lodge serves dinner. He recommends warm clothing.

He would like people to leave this talk "with at least a general and hopefully inspiring introduction to astronomy and the night sky," he said, "and some knowledge they can share with a friend on that next clear, starlit night."

If you go ...

What: 'The Universe and
the Anthropic Principle,' talk
by Bill Minardi, professor
emeritus, MCLA

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

What: and ‘Virtual Tour of the New England Sky,' talk by Kevin Collins, president, Amherst Area Amateur Astronomers Association. Viewing of night sky following Collins' talk.

When: 6 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Bascom Lodge, summit of Mount Greylock

Admission: Events free to all

Separate fixed-price dinner served at 7 p.m.

Information: (413) 743-1591,


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