Astronomy Lecture Planned for Friday in Bridgehampton

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The Milky Way galaxy. Photo courtesy Dr. Mike Inglis

By Michelle Trauring

Mike Inglis’s first memory of the night sky is with his father’s arms around him.

He was 3 years old, standing in the family garden at their home in Britain. He doesn’t remember what he saw there. But when his father picked him up to carry him back to the house, he tilted his small head back to the skies, and wanted to be an astronomer ever since.

“When you’re standing out under a dark sky, it is one of the most incredible sights you’ll ever see, when you’re somewhere really dark, like upstate New York or Australia,” the now Dr. Mike Inglis said. “It’s just unbelievable, the night sky is fantastic. It’s probably the second-best thing you’ll ever see in your life. The first? The smile on the face of the person that loves you.”

His British cadence quickens when speaking about astronomy, a passion practically tangible through the phone, one that he will bestow upon a group of amateur, or simply curious, astronomers on Friday night at the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton.

On the East End, where so many come for the famed light, these stargazers are coming for the dark.

“No matter where you are, there’s light pollution. But the East End is better than most places,” he said. “Where I live is ridiculous, it’s probably the light pollution center of the universe, Patchogue. But the East End is pretty good. The farther you go, of course, the better it gets.”

If it is a clear night, participants should be able to see Saturn, Jupiter, galaxies and star clusters, he said, following a discussion about the formation of the Milky Way, its contents and what will happen to it in the future — “which is quite spectacular,” he added.

For now, they will be looking through two smaller telescopes, until the Montauk Observatory at The Ross School in East Hampton is complete.

The dome will house a 20-inch Meade telescope — the largest telescope on Long Island — in a building on its main campus, where it will be available for scholars and stargazers alike.

Dr. Mike Inglis will lead an astronomy lecture on Friday in Bridgehampton. Courtesy photo

“I’m always completely entranced when I look through the telescope at things in the sky,” Inglis said. “I’m very happy — not so much now, because I’m a bit slower and older — but I used to spend all night just standing outside, looking through my telescopes. There’s just something about it. It’s just beautiful and amazing and sometimes when you see things, you’re just awestruck, really.”

When he thinks too hard on it, even Inglis can find himself overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the universe.

“Oh all the time. All the time,” he said. “I was out in Montauk a couple years ago, and it was a fantastically clear night, and I could see the Milky Way, and you’re just moved. It’s a spiritual event — I don’t mean a religious thing, nothing like that — but you’re just moved by the … there’s no word for it: how incredible and amazing it is, and the fact that we are poor little humans on this little planet.”

It was a realization that came en force when his father gave him his first telescope at age 11 on Christmas Day morning — “Instead of going into work, because he used to work in the hospital, he stayed a bit to help me put it together because he was so excited to see me excited,” Inglis said — and can imagine many of his youngest stargazers feel the same way.

The way he even felt at just 3 years old, he said.

“We’ve had a few people who have been coming to the talks or have been coming to the Montauk Observatory since it started eight years ago,” he said. “We had one family brought their little girl and she was very, very interested, and she’s now going to university to study it. And we had another guy whose son was very interested, who just finished his PhD in astrophysics at Harvard.

“It makes me very proud, and happy that we lit this fire of curiosity in these students,” he continued. “It’s amazing, and who knows what this guy is going to go on and discover.”

“Astronomy of the Milky Way,” a Montauk Observatory Lecture and guided tour of the night sky with Dr. Mike Inglis, will be held on Friday, September 15, at 7 p.m. at the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton. Admission is free. For more information, call (631) 537-9735 or visit sofo.org.

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