Listening to the Stars

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut
Martz/Kohl Board of Directors

The Martz/Kohl Observatory in Frewsburg has been rapidly expanding its capabilities recently with new, advanced telescopes, larger class and conference facilities and remote, robotic access by off-site users. Stargazing with eyes and ‘scopes has taken giant leaps forward atop Robin Hill.

Now, something even newer has been added. Martz/Kohl can now listen to the cosmos and hear the stars, planets and interstellar clouds chatter in the radio spectrum. A radio astronomy telescope is now in operation.

Earth’s closest star, our Sun, broadcasts enormous amounts of energy in radio waves. The sun is a stormy place in both light and radio frequencies. A single wisp of the sun’s atmosphere blown off into space in our direction has, and can again cripple our continent-wide power grids, orbiting communication satellites and then accompany the chaos with brilliant displays of Northern Lights.

Radio astronomy is a powerful tool to study such celestial energy. But it is not confined to Earth. Giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn are home to storms of their own. Some of them dwarf Earth itself and harbor gale force winds of 600 miles per hour or more. Their lightning is so powerful a single bolt could vaporize a town or most of a lake like Chautauqua. Those lightning bolts can deliver their own strange music to a radio telescope.

Stars and galaxies and black holes all transmit unique signals, too, carrying vital information to radio astronomers looking ever deeper into the structure and workings of the universe. The Martz/Kohl radio telescope is no match for the giant 100 meter, multi-million dollar research behemoths like Arecibo in the Caribbean or the new 500 meter telescope in southwest China’s Guizhou province. But it will become an excellent basic listening post that also demonstrates the scientific principles of radio astronomy and offers its own opportunities to listen in on the cosmos.

Then there’s ET. Martz/Kohl isn’t promising to receive ET’s first radio call to Earth, but if it does happen one day or night soon, they promise Chautauqua County will be among the first to know.

November in the Sky
November 14 – The Full Moon will be the year’s third Supermoon, at its closest approach to the Earth. It may look slightly larger and brighter than usual. This full moon was known by some Native Americans as the Full Beaver Moon for the time of year to set the beaver traps before the swamps and rivers froze. It has also been called the Frosty Moon and the Hunter’s Moon.

November 16 and 17. Look for the Leonids Meteor Shower which may producing up to 15 meteor sightings per hour at its peak. This shower puts on a bigger show about every 33 years with hundreds of meteors per hour. That last occurred in 2001. The shower varies from November 6 to 30, with this year’s high point predicted for the night of the 16th and morning of the 17th. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

Open Invitation
The public is invited to visit Martz/Kohl, see and hear the sky with one of the main ‘scopes, see the control room operations and tour the facility in the company of one of the experienced and knowledgeable volunteer astronomers.

The suggested contribution of $5 helps keep the lights on, the telescopes searching the sky and the computers humming. Membership is open to all. Student, $15; Regular/Individual, $25; Family, $30 per year. Printable applications are available at Mail to: Martz/Kohl Observatory, P.O. Box 14, Frewsburg, NY 14738 or visit 176 Robin Hill Road in Frewsburg. Just follow the big, blue and white signs from the 5-Corners in Frewsburg.

For a deeper look at the night sky, planets, stars and the entire universe, visit the Martz/Kohl Observatory online at, check the schedule of events and visit in person. Thank you to Hall and Laury Opticians for sponsoring these Martz/Kohl column.