[The following is an open letter to Greater New Milford-area residents from the volunteers at the McCarthy Observatory on the campus of New Milford High School.]

Dear friends of the McCarthy Observatory:

Oct. 17, 2014

Happy fall to all of you.

October is a most special month in this part of New England, with wonderful weather and the beauty of the local fall color in our forests. A time for family hikes, photography, town fall festivals and star-gazing.

Our volunteer team treasures the stable skies and reduced moisture in the atmosphere. Some of the best "seeing conditions" of the year are happening in the next few weeks, with much earlier darkness so the whole family can enjoy the experience.

Get out that telescope, your binoculars or come to your observatory and see very special sights in the heavens.

If you are interested in learning more about astronomy, there are still several slots open in our fall astronomy adult education class, which runs for six weeks starting Oct. 15. The cost is a mere $50 and seniors get a 15 percent discount. You can enroll using a form in the catalog at the New Milford Adult Education website: www.newmilfordps.org.

This is the 26th consecutive adult ed class conducted by the observatory volunteers -- we have come a long way in using teaching tools, simulators and our arsenal of telescopes to make this an exciting adventure.

In the fascinating study of our solar system, exoplanets and distant galaxies, impressive discoveries are being made constantly.

This month has seen water discovered in the atmosphere of a Neptune-sized planet, 124 light years from earth -- a real breakthrough in exoplanet science.

It was rjust eported a huge cloud the size of Egypt made of ice particles of hydrogen cyanide gas was discovered at the south pole of Saturn's moon Titan, meaning it is much colder than expected.

More amazingly, the ALMA observatory in Chile has discovered a complex, carbon-based molecule called isopropyl cyanide in a star-forming region 26,000 light years away.

We submit these examples as indicators of the great tools being proven out now as the search for possible life forms elsewhere continues to mature.

Of course, cyanide is toxic to life as we know it, but detecting such things in many remote places is an indicator of great progress in technology.

These kinds of discoveries would not have been possible even five years ago, and the fun has just begun. Much excitement ahead

The volunteers

McCarthy Observatory

New Milford