CHARLESTOWN, R.I.--When day turns to night, a small dome takes on a big presence as it opens the public's eyes to a universe that's vast and stunning.
"This is where awesome things happen," says Scott MacNeill, director of Frosty Drew Observatory, one of the best spots in southern New England to see cosmic events, like the recent perseid meteor shower, as well as nightly views of stars, planets and the moon.
On Friday evenings through the summer and fall, the public is invited to a program called Astro-Geekery.
"We want them to come in and experience astronomy as something that’s fun, as something you want to get into," explained MacNeill. "We’ll see - on really great summer nights - upwards of 600 people visiting."
Folks can stroll the grounds, see turtles and other critters in the nature center and watch a slideshow that helps brings the cosmic wonders into context.
But the telescope in the observatory is the star of the show. The 16-inch Meade-Schmidt Cassegrain LX-200 is incredibly powerful. Visitors wait in line until they have a chance to see into the sky through this impressive instrument.
"Look in the eye piece with one eye, and have your mind blown," said MacNeill.
The observatory is on the edge of the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge, which almost insulates the stargazing, making the observatory a particularly dark spot.
"It’s a substantial help to keeping the sky dark because we’re not going to get any light spill from that direction," said MacNeill.
Recently, Jennifer Widness of West Hartford and her daughter, Ellie, gazed at the craters in the moon. "It’s been a great experience overall," said Widness.
MacNeill loves inspiring children: "We see kids constantly here. They look in the telescope, they hear what we’re talking about, their face lights up and the next thing you know, they have books about astronomy and want to volunteer here."
Smaller telescopes on the lawn also give visitors incredible views of planets such as Saturn.
"I was amazed, yeah, it was amazing," said Linda McAllister of Charlestown of seeing sites in space. "It's very big and we're just a piece of it."
That's what the program is all about: finding perspective with a glimpse at the past and future.
"When we look at the cosmos -- look up in space -- we get a much larger picture of what’s happening out there, the evolutions of the stars, other planets in the solar system, pretty much other worlds," said MacNeill. "There’s so much to explore and discover out there."
A close encounter with far away lands. An experience without limits.
Click here to find out more about Frosty Drew Observatory. Stargazing nights take place every Friday at sunset. Upcoming events include a look at the Harvest Moon on September 16 and International Observe the Moon Night on October 8. All events are free to the public, but the observatory does accept donations.