Watching the skies over the Southeast Side: Astronomers set up telescopes for the public

After a summer where many of them hid until nearly dawn, the planets are back at a reasonable hour.

"They have come out from behind the sun and entered our evening skies," said Joe Guzman, an astronomer for the Chicago Park District.

To mark their return, Guzman and a team of volunteer astronomers will be setting up telescopes for the public on the Southeast Side Saturday evening.

The event runs from around sunset to 9:30 p.m. at Steelworkers Park at 87th Street and the lake. It is free and open to the public, no registration necessary.

Headlining the early autumn skies are the two biggest celestial bodies in our solar system– Saturn and Jupiter. "If you’ve never seen Saturn in a telescope, it’s a marvel to behold," Guzman said.

Some observers can’t believe they’re seeing it and the rings so clearly, or Jupiter and its many moons, especially while in the city.

But the longtime astronomer said that with telescopes and filters to "punch through light pollution," as well as guides, "you can see the wonders of the universe from underneath a streetlamp."


To that end, Guzman will bring his own Celestron C11 telescope. Weighing around 250 pounds, it’s the biggest in Chicago outside the Adler Planetarium’s, he said.

Additional equipment includes a large monitor to show objects on a large scale; a string of red lights to prevent people from tripping while not interfering with observation; and more telescopes brought by volunteers.

"We try to bring a variety of equipment for people to get a sense of the differences and appreciate the tradeoffs," said John Napoletano, a longtime volunteer with Guzman.

These include manual telescopes, but most are what Napoletano called "goto" telescopes, which use software to track objects.

Looking out onto the lake with a waning moon, the group expects to have dark enough skies to observe deep space objects as well, including nebulae, star clusters and other galaxies.

When they get to the "E.T." star cluster — a group of stars that resemble the figure from the Steven Spielberg movie — Guzman said the conversation often wanders to life beyond earth.

"There’s a great level of pondering about that," Guzman said.

For those don’t make it Saturday, the group will host another session Monday evening at Mather Park on the North Side.