(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:

This letter is being written on the 12th anniversary of your observatory, so it is a fine time for some reflection on progress -- for us and for space science overall.

Our feelings about the observatory today are that it has never been healthier, with dramatically improved technology, improved skills in doing science, many new tools for teaching at all levels, an enthusiastic and capable set of volunteers and, most importantly, a growing community of repeat visitors and more knowledgeable young students with great curiosity.

We have come a long way, and have many ideas and plans for new projects and new tools and technology to support our mission -- there is no sense of "resting on our laurels" in this team.

The most interesting challenge that has faced us in these 12 years has been keeping up with the science of astronomy.

Just like the expansion of the universe is now known to be increasing at an accelerating rate, such is the case with discoveries in space. They are breathtaking, and for sure accelerating as amazing new tools deploy on earth and in space, and more well-trained people are engaged in studying the cosmos.

It is our duty to bring these discoveries to you, and make sure we are providing the latest known information. We do our best, but it is dizzying... and very exciting.

Just in very recent weeks, there has been tantalizing input from the science team running the incredible "Curiosity" vehicle on Mars about potential discoveries by the vehicle's instrument package.

And, the Messenger vehicle orbiting Mercury has discovered large quantities of water ice "and possible organic compounds" deep in the shaded portions of polar craters.

Very intriguing, and a surprise to most (but not all) of the science team.

And, a black hole with mass about 16 billion times the mass of our sun has been found in a very small galaxy -- something thought to not be possible.

And, even the distance to wonderful Polaris, the North Star, has been reviewed and found to be only three quarters as far away as was previously thought.

We put great trust in previous Polaris measurements, but new instruments reset the game regularly in every field of space research.

Your volunteer team has to keep up with all this. What fun it is.

And, just more than three months ago, a new comet was discovered that may end up being one of the great, bright comets of modern times. Or not, hard to predict.

And, this year, more than 120 planets around other stars have been discovered, bringing today's total to 848.

And the year is not over. The number is growing in great leaps.

This barely scratches the surface of space science progress this year. With powerful new instruments coming on line frequently, the pace will keep growing in amazing an unpredicted ways, as it has since Galileo introduced us to the heavens.

Best regards for a safe and enjoyable holiday season.

The volunteers

McCarthy Observatory

New Milford