[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,

October is finding your volunteer team possibly the busiest it has ever been, with daytime and nighttime student visits, including 60 school visitors in a morning this week, birthday parties for people aged nine and 50, a visit to a school for an evening "Sky Orienteering" event with laser pointers, the start of our fall adult education program, and much work to complete the 2013 projects in Galileo's Garden.

Many more technology improvements are also underway, and our work list of neat new things gets longer, not shorter.

Special mention is well-deserved for the seven Master Gardener candidates who have done so much this year to help with the wonderful garden space¦ they have all now received their certification and have ambitious and creative plans for the future of the garden.

We are very proud to have each of them as part of our volunteer team.

In space news, exciting input from the Curiosity mission on Mars has caught our eye. Experiments have revealed there is much more water near the Martian surface than had been realized -- absorbed and trapped in soil like in a sponge.

By heating soil samples to 835 degrees Celsius, the water is released as steam. There is evidence a cubic foot of soil would yield about two pints of water. Very surprising and very important for future Martian exploration. That is a lot of water, quite readily available.

Closer to home for amateur astronomers, NASA workers have recently released software to the public designed to enable people with small telescopes to help in the search for planets around other stars.

We intend to study this suite of software over the near term, and determine if it would be something we could utilize and support for student research activities. How exciting it would be if a student from our area were to discovere an actual planet outside our solar system.

Stay tuned.

Remember -- Comet ISON is approaching, and we could have some fun in the November/early December time frame. It may not turn out to be the best one in history, but comets are always fascinating.

Please come if you can to celebrate "International Observe the Moon Night" with us at our monthly Second Saturday Stars event on October 12: it is always a fun and interesting event.

The volunteers

McCarthy Observatory

New Milford