Ross School In East Hampton May Get A New Observatory

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The Ross School is hoping to bring the solar system within reach with a new observatory that is currently under East Hampton Town consideration.

If Ross School gets approval, students, astronomers and community members will have access to a 20-inch Meade telescope.

The plan is to install a 180-square-foot prefabricated stone building that would house the telescope and then give digital remote access to star-gazing groups and professionals, according to Terry Bienstock, the president of the Montauk Observatory’s board.

He said the Montauk Observatory bought the telescope nearly seven years ago and had been looking for a permanent home to place it in. Enter the Ross School.

“So much of our curriculum is tied to the skies and astronomy,” said Chris Engel, Ross’s director of community programs. “It was a natural fit for our community and our school.”

The observatory would be located by the school’s tennis center at its East Hampton campus and would not have any 
visitors. Instead, astronomers of all skill levels would be able to look at the skies remotely on a screen.

People would be able to request a time for viewing the sky, with priority given to professional astronomers and teachers.

According to Mr. Bienstock, the observatory would be the only professional-grade facility free and open to public use on the South Fork.

“It was a revolutionary design when it came out five or six years ago when we acquired it,” he added. “It was the first one built.”

He said that the telescope was first donated to the Custer Institute in Southold from an East Hampton resident and then the Montauk Observatory purchased it from the Custer Institute. A dome over the telescope was donated to the observatory by the Custer Institute.

Mr. Bienstock said the Montauk Observatory, a not-for-profit organization, holds free year-round educational programs, including astronomy lectures and planetarium shows with its portable planetarium.

Now the observatory will have a permanent home for one of its dozen donated telescopes.

Contractor Thomas Frey is donating his time to install the structure housing the telescope, according to Mr. Bienstock. He said it would take about one week to construct once they get the approval from East Hampton Town.

“The board was unanimous in support of the Ross School Observatory,” said Reed Jones, the Planning Board chairman. “It will be a nice addition to the school.”

He said since the application for the observatory does not require a public hearing, because it qualifies as a minor site plan, the next step is for the board to vote on approval, which will likely happen later this month.

The deal between the observatory and the Ross School is sweet on both sides, according to Mr. Engel.

“We are thrilled about this,” he said. “Astronomy plays a big role in every grade level. Now we will have access to the telescope to do real-time work and better understand the stars and the heavens.”

For more information about the Montauk Observatory, visit www.montaukobservatory.com.

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