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Urban Astronomy - A note from our NY correspondent Eric Schandall

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Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Manhatten


Eric Schandall is a well-known member of the Victoria Centre who moved to New York in the spring of 2001 to work at Steinway's. I hear from Eric from time to time by email and this is a note I received in March 2002. The voice of amateur astronomy is alive and well in the Big Apple. - David Lee

Hi David,

There's something about the engagement with the world that comes through the open eye attached to an open mind. Both the mind and the world are enhanced, both are more than if this hadn't happened.

Had the first visit to the top of my house last night. There are two rooftop areas, one on the 34th and one on the 35th floor. The lower one is always available and always lit with two sodium lights. It also is rather limited in the view. The top level is locked because of some rowdiness and damage to equipment up there. With permission it is available and it is perfect for my purposes. It looks clearly over all this end of Manhattan except for due south which is blocked by a higher building immediately adjacent. What a view! There are so many buildings, each so different and distinct. It's like standing looking out over a large crowd of people and just seeing the faces at first. Slowly you begin to pick out the individuals, some friends among them, and begin to see them for themselves.

You know how the pattern of the rising stars anchors the landscape to them and how the landscape anchors the unveiling of the sky to it? Both then are fixed within a season and our own histories. The other night Arcturus drifted right past the Woolworth Building and escaped into the sky. I'll always look for them together in February. Jupiter and Saturn have been gorgeous with the Moon and the buildings in Lower Manhattan. It's easy to see Orion within this landscape, which allows him tight quarters unless you are down by the river or on the top of a building where he can spread his arms without hitting anything. Sure, there's not a good dark site here for astronomy but there is just a different kind of astronomy, one that is intertwined with the City, the lights, and the sounds.

Observing in Victoria, I used to love to hear the birds calling to one another during the night. You could hear the feathers of the Canada Geese and the ducks as they flew overhead. The small marsh birds were busy all night, a private part of the life there in the city when most everyone was asleep, intimate. The other night on the roof there were all the sounds of the City, the ferries on the River, the Verazano Narrows Bridge, Arcturus being silent in the depths. Then there was the sound of metal twisting and falling, screaming as metal screams when girders and beams twist and fall. Part of the intimacy here is with the work which is unfolding and revealing the ground under the fallen buildings and the fallen, what is left of all this.

So here we are, bearing witness to whatever there is. Some are my old friends from childhood who adorn the sky and have followed me here and rise among the buildings. Some are the faces still seen on the streets, the faces in the photographs that were at first a crowd of strangers and now have become individuals to us, have become themselves, and are gone.



From the Steinway factory location looking toward the City



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Last updated: December 12, 2013

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