Column: Observatory volunteers offer ways to explore space from home

(The following is an open letter to the friends of the John J. McCarthy Observatory in New Milford.)

We hope all of you are in good health, and taking all necessary precautions, as we are.

Here is an update.

Most of us, adults and students alike, will be at home these next few weeks, looking to entertain and possibly enlighten ourselves a bit.

Those of you who have an inclination towards space topics, here are a few places to spend time exploring the earth, the solar system, and the universe, from home computers and mobile devices- and perhaps your backyard.

Astronomy Picture Of the Day - APOD ( This is a spectacular archive of imagery from every imaginable part of the heavens from many great sources, with almost five years of daily selections archived, complete with explanations.

It is a true treasure trove, that gets better as new telescopes and imaging equipment from earth and space evolve quickly.

Most of us look at it daily. More interesting than local weather. It features news and information about the solar system weather and events.

Things are happening constantly, an ever-changing habitat around us.

The International Space Station ( Learn to observe the ISS passing over your heads on those clear nights when its path goes over your region.

When there is a pass that reaches high altitudes, it gets extraordinarily bright, and will be above the trees around you. Always thrilling.

You can also sign up for alerts of upcoming sightings.

There are several mobile device apps that provide all this information.

Many visitors to JJMO are amazed that the ISS can be seen, and get very excited seeing it.

After almost 22 years in space, the ISS is often forgotten. But it is now doing the best science of its lifetime.

Upgrade your ISS knowledge here:

Operate a precise planetarium on your home computer or mobile device: We use and recommend Stellarium from home computers. It is free, easy to use, and very accurate and rich in function.

One fun exercise is to alter the date/time and location to the exact time and place family members were born.

Everyone can then see the heavens exactly as they were out the window - day or night.

For mobile devices, there are many choices. Some favorites include Sky Guide, Night Sky and Luminos.

NASA’s Eyes program: Go on actual solar system journeys via the absolutely amazing NASA's Eyes program.

Most past JPL mission anywhere in the solar system, from launch to today or mission end.

Earth science from satellites, the Cassini, Juno, and New Horizons missions, Exoplanet locations, and much more.

See where the two Voyager vehicles are today, and how they got there.

Start with the Juno mission and see many new discoveries about Jupiter and its entire environment.

The Hubble Telescope ( It is celebrating its 30th year in orbit in April, and the discoveries are beyond imagination.

Humankind's knowledge of the universe, near and far, has been incredibly enriched due to this fabulous workhorse in space.

If nothing else, this is the place to wander in. Perhaps start with the news releases, by space topic of interest to you by year. It is beautifully organized.

Meanwhile, your team is making excellent progress on tuning the hardware and software for the first site at JJMO of our planned AllSky meteor tracking system.

A most complex project, but fascinating. We are now getting much information on clear nights on meteor trails, and learning how to interpret the data received.

A second camera and controller is under development, to be deployed as a remote instrument, so when the two cameras detect a bright trail we can calculate the trajectory through the atmosphere to a landing area.

Wish us luck! We don't have a specific timetable but will keep you posted.