…at High Rock Tower

There is an observatory in Lynn – an actual observatory where you can view the moons of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, the craters of the Moon – in downtown Lynn.

Believe it or not, the historic High Rock Tower that looms above Essex, High Rock and Rockaway streets houses an impressive 12-inch Meade telescope with lenses powerful enough to view planets, galaxies, star clusters, and nebula.

“The location is actually the best and the worst thing about the observatory,” mused Jamie Marsh, development director in Lynn’s Community Development Office. “If it wasn’t in the middle of the city, we could see some of the more distant stars. The lights from downtown and even from Boston make it tricky – the effect of what’s called ‘light pollution’. But if it was anywhere else, it wouldn’t be as accessible to our city’s schools and clubs, and some of those kids might never get the chance to see something like this.”

Apparently, a few of our kids have seen this incredible sparkling gem, keeping many of the rest of us in the dark. On one Tuesday night a month, Marsh hosts a viewing at the observatory and he recounts many classrooms, Boy and Girl Scout troops, church groups and local clubs such as Girls Incorporated taking full advantage of the opportunity to stay out very late to learn about the basics of astronomy. Marsh said, “The kids…after they’ve looked at the huge craters and hills on the surface of the moon or spotted the rings all around Saturn…get this look on their face that just says, ‘Wow’.”

But the tours aren’t just for children. Fundraisers have auctioned off reservations on the tour, coupled with a dinner at the Red Rock Bistro. And tentative plans are being made for a wine-tasting to be held at the tower. However, right now, a spot can be reserved on any of the scheduled tours through the High Rock page on the City of Lynn website (www.cityoflynn.net), and the tours are given free of charge, thanks to the volunteers from the staff of the mayor’s office.

The use of the tower would gain a lot of approval from the original owners of High Rock. The Hutchinson family, artistic and politically active relations from the late 1800s, envisioned that the spot, once believed to be a lookout for Native Americans and the early settlers of the area, should be a place for public celebrations. In addition to rallies and concerts held during the Civil War, High Rock was once the location for a gathering of 8,000 celebrants for the laying of the Atlantic Cable.

The family also hoped that it would become an institute of advanced thought. Jesse Hutchinson even willed the summit to the city for the construction of an observatory. Completed in 1904, the granite tower had a dome on its top landing similar to the one that is in place now. But today’s dome swivels electronically and is outfitted with the latest software for star-gazing.

“We have this program,” Marsh explained, the twinkle in his eye matching the ones mapped out on the screen. “You tap in the date and time, and what you’re looking for, say, a galaxy, and it will tell you the exact coordinates to find it.” The Meade telescope allows the operator to then type in what is called Right Ascension and Declination, coordinate numbers similar to Earth’s longitude and latitude, to locate exactly what you want to see through its lenses, mapping local residents’ complete access to the night sky.

Visit the City of Lynn website’s High Rock page, at www.ci.lynn.ma.us/attractions_highrocktower.shtml or call 781-599-1444 for reservations for the next scheduled observation on Tuesday, October 6, at 9 p.m.

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