Thursday, September 6, 2007

Joe the Star Guy

Just after 10 p.m., a tired group of students and their parents walked slowly up Back Ridge, heading for the highest point on The Mountain Institute’s high plains. As the group approaches the crest of the ridge, they can make out the shadow of their objective, Back Ridge Observatory. Once there, they are greeted by a tall, excited man that seems very happy to see everyone. He welcomes the group, introduces himself and begins to point out stars, planets, and constellations throughout the night sky. The group soon moves inside where they gaze through a telescope so large that they must climb a ladder to reach the eye piece. The night sky is crystal clear, brilliant, with no light expect for that of the millions of stars shimmering light years away.

The man is Dr. Joe Morris and Back Ridge Observatory is his creation, his vision become reality. The group, organized by Johns Hopkins University, had members from all over the eastern United States, none whom had ever seen a night sky as magnificent as it was that summer night. It was the pilot run of the observatory and ran seamlessly.

The Mountain Institute’s Spruce Knob Mountain Center is located in the heart of the Monongahela National Forest and provides visitors with ‘the darkest skies east of the Mississippi River. Many visitors immediately realize what a unique experience this provides for astronomy; Joe Morris realized this nearly a decade ago. “Urban dwellers are gradually being robbed of the pleasure of seeing the beautiful night sky,” wrote Joe in a letter to TMI headquarters. One night while sharing observations with a group of TMI students, he watched and listened to them, in awe of the sparkling stars and deep sky objects that they had never been able to see before because of light pollution. Light pollution exists in areas where there is a significant amount of outdoor lighting at night, usually in and near urban areas. The glow reaches up into the night sky and drowns out the light of the stars and planets. When he saw the students’ reactions, Joe realized that astronomy fits in very well with TMI’s mission in Appalachia.

To learn more check out the fall edition of the Spruce Knob News. If you don't get the SK News, then email Josh Nease and demand that you be put on the list immediately. His email is Article by Josh Nease.

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