The Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie usually features stars of the stage and airwaves, but this fall it’s celebrating the literal heavens. “SkyFest: Astronomy & the Arts” mixes astronomy-themed concerts, lectures by astronomer and Almanac Weekly’s “Night Sky” columnist Bob Berman and Al Nagler (an optics whiz who designed the visual simulator for the Apollo program), and art exhibits with actual stargazing expeditions, including the first Moon viewing on Walkway over the Hudson. It includes in its calendar of events – which commences with a Moon observation in the Smolen Observatory at SUNY-New Paltz on October 12 – astronomical phenomena, such as the full moon and several meteor showers. SkyFest ends with the approach of Comet ISON to the Sun at the end of November.
There will be Moon-viewings at the Vassar Observatory every Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m., October 12 through November 30; confirm by calling (845) 437-7340 before 4:30 p.m.
On October 15, Al Nagler, founder of TeleVue Optics, will present his lecture “Giant Eyepieces that Swallow Spacecraft” at SUNY-New Paltz. The “giant eyepiece” refers to the visual simulator designed by Nagler that was used to train the astronauts piloting the Gemini spacecraft and Apollo Lunar Model; it utilized a mirror eight feet wide and a lens three feet in diameter.
On October 18, Berman will present his first MoonWalk on Walkway over the Hudson, using a laser pointer to identify the constellations, stranger phenomena such as black holes, and the directions in which the Earth is currently moving (there are five; the planet’s movement through space is apparently not a simple thing). Telescopes provided and manned by the Mid-Hudson Astronomy Club will be set up along the Walkway, enabling participants to get a closer look at the sky.
Berman will present a second lecture, “Light and Color in the Universe,” at the Bardavon on November 19. The topic is mind-stretching, given that nothing is what it seems. Colors seem to be an empirical fact, but the universe is actually colorless, and the hues we perceive are actually the product of our brains, according to Berman. Furthermore, the green of nature is an illusion; grass, for instance, “feeds on blue rays and doesn’t like green light. The green is what is reflected back to the eyes,” he says. Plus, there is no yellow in nature; what appears to be yellow is the combination of red and green light.
On November 1, the Adriance Memorial Library in Poughkeepsie opens up a special SkyFest exhibition, consisting of a false dome inserted under the cupola in the lobby that mimics the universe, hung with miniature spaceships created by artists. (They’ll be selected by Arm-of-the-Sea’s Patrick Wadden. The submission deadline is October 15; contact Wadden at email@example.com.) On November 2, the Barrett Art Center also opens up a special art exhibit; both shows run through the end of November – the Library’s through November 26, the Barrett’s through November 30.
Then, on November 23, there will be a concert by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic at the Bardavon of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, accompanied by a live video feed of spectacular space images from NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. The piece features a movement for each planet (except Pluto, which hadn’t been discovered when it was composed), the last of which will be accompanied by the Vassar College Women’s Chorus. This is old-fashioned space music, a reminder that composers didn’t always conceive of the music of the cosmos as meditative and dreamy.
SkyFest: Astronomy & the Arts. October 15 – November 23: Al Nagler lecture, “Giant Eyepieces that Swallow Spacecraft,” Tuesday, October 15, 7:30 p.m., Lecture Center 104, SUNY-New Paltz; “Wonders of the Autumn Sky,” Bob Berman lecture/MoonWalk, Friday, October 18, 7 p.m., $5 donation, Walkway over the Hudson; gallery opening, Friday, November 1, Adriance Memorial Library; gallery opening, Saturday, November 2, Barrett Art Center; Berman lecture “Light and Color in the Universe,” Tuesday, November 19, Bardavon; Holst’s The Planets, Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Saturday, November 23, $20-$54, Bardavon; (845) 473-2072, www.bardavon.org.