Check out the sky: Maine libraries adding telescopes to their collections

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BRUNSWICK — Ever wanted to discover a new star or planet, or get lost in the vastness of the galaxy, or search for alien life?

A program organized by Cornerstones of Science, and offered at area libraries, will help you channel your inner Galileo by lending out telescopes.

“We are doing this program to get patrons to re-engage with their public libraries,” Cynthia Randall, Cornerstones executive director, said. “We want to be able to connect people with how cool science is on their own terms, in their own back yards. We are trying to get patrons to think of libraries as their local science centers.”

Starting in early spring, the Portland Public Library, Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick and Raymond Village Library will have telescopes available for patrons to check out, just as they would books.

The program, which is already in place and thriving in New Hampshire, will partner with local astronomy clubs to teach patrons how to use the telescopes.

“The local astronomy clubs, who will serve as the caretakers for the telescopes, will come in and host sky gazing parties, sidewalk events and other programs on how to use the telescope and how to look at the night sky,” Randall said.

By the end of June Cornerstones of Science plans to have telescopes in all 22 of its partner libraries across the state, each working with astronomers like Ron Thompson of the Southern Maine Astronomy Society.

“I can’t think of a better way for the libraries to reach out to the community and introduce astronomy to folks who wouldn’t get into it because they can’t afford it or who have never tried it before,” Thompson said.

After hearing a presentation about the program, Thompson jumped on board and put together a presentation for each of the libraries.

“I said I would go around working with all of the libraries, explaining what the telescope is, how it basically works and how to set it up,” he said. “I hope to give a little insight on what it is like to do astronomy, what is involved in observing; it isn’t just taking a telescope and learning how to look at the sky, it’s about learning what is up there.”

The first of the educational programs, “Meet Galileo,” will take place at the Portland Public Library on March 23 at 2 p.m. Similar programs will take place at Curtis Memorial Library and Raymond Village Library.

“The program is really great because if people find they don’t like using the telescope, they can just return it to the library,” Thompson said. “It is unfortunate that so many people will buy a telescope … use it once and then put it into the closet because it isn’t usable. These telescopes (The Orion StarBlast 4.5-inch telescope) are really ideal for looking at the sky.”

To start, each library will receive one telescope through a private grant, but Thompson said he believes that many wil eventually require at least two to fill the needs of the program.

For more information about the program program contact Susan Ryan at Cornerstones of Science.

Amber Cronin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 115 or Follow Amber on Twitter: @croninamber.