[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, we have two exciting topics for you this month.

First, in collaboration with the New Milford High School and the town's three elementary schools, we received a $4,500 "Toolbox for Education" grant from Lowe's for the purpose of constructing student sunflower gardens as part of our Galileo's Garden project this spring.

Work is well under way for this initiative, which is titled "1,000 Suns for New Milford."

Each elementary school is planting seeds in school and each student takes home planted seeds.

We are delivering more than 60 varieties of sunflower seeds (we purchased almost 8,000 seeds) and have 100 percent participation from the teachers in the three schools.

This means about 1,500 pre-K to third graders will be learning about sunflowers and the science of plant growth. Sunflowers are amazing things.

Meanwhile, the observatory team is building three stone-walled, student-raised garden beds at the observatory.

Planting day is planned for June 11.

The many varieties will show amazing diversity of color, flower sizes, stalk heights, bloom times, etc. We plan to have some fun contests among the schools and the three garden beds in the fall.

We may see stalks 16 feet high, and flower heads well over a foot in diameter. We plan to do this project every year, and are very excited about the enthusiastic reception it has had.

If you know of or are part of an organization that would like to participate in the "1,000 Suns" project at other locations, please let us know. We will help.

Second, our Second Saturday stars event on Saturday, May 14 will have an added feature: the agenda is to have owners of telescopes bring them to get help from our volunteers on using them effectively (or using them at all in lots of cases).

So, if you have one in the closet or the basement and wish you were better at setting it up and using it well, this is your night.

Don't be embarrassed -- you will be in good company.

Come and have fun learning from people who have been doing this for decades. There will also be hints and tips on getting the most out of your instrument, and you may find friends and neighbors that you and your family can team up with to do observing nearby your homes.

So get your telescope out, dust it off, find the various parts and that manual you misplaced, and come on down Saturday.

We will also be doing observing as usual, and Saturn is superb right now.

All-volunteer team

McCarthy Observatory

New Milford