The telescope. [photo by Paul Benninghoff]


The galaxy’s within reach at the Conway Observatory

If you didn’t know the eerie, red glow in the middle of a large field was radiating from an observatory, your mind might run wild with thoughts about occult gatherings.

The sky was clear and the weather warm when I arrived at the Conway Observatory for an early October open house hosted by the Calumet Astronomical Society. The red glow, it turns out, was coming from red lights that stargazers use to see in the dark and preserve their night vision.

A circular patio to the north of the building was teeming with people peering through several telescopes to view the celestial objects of the night sky.

The sky alone was impressive. The observatory is southeast of Lowell, which means it’s far enough from the light pollution of the Chicago area to allow more stars to shine through. I easily got lost in their multitude. Even the Milky Way took no effort to find. As I gazed upward, a shooting star flashed past, and a satellite lazily traversed the heavens.

As I walked around the patio, I picked up on the chatter among the society’s members. It was fascinating shop talk. They talked about what they recently had viewed and where to find specific objects, and offered tips on new telescopes and equipment for stargazing. I was invited to take a peek through a few of the telescopes and succeeded in spotting a comet and the Andromeda Galaxy.

I made my way up the conservatory along the wooden path that wraps around the building, pausing here and there to take in the sights.

At the top, I met a group clustered around the conservatory telescope to view Jupiter. I gladly accepted an invitation to take a seat at the eyepiece. The view was amazing! I saw Jupiter’s three moons and the cloudy bands that stretch across the planet, and I could plainly see one of the moons cast its shadow on the mammoth orb!

The members were very friendly and quite eager to answer any question from the public. Many members attended that night, and I could sense their passion for their hobby and their even greater fervor for sharing it with others. No one was turned down while seeking a peek through one of the personal telescopes, and members even brought step stools for children to reach the eyepieces.

It was wondrous. Educating and entertaining. Who knew we walk beneath such awe-inspiring treasures? I plan on many returns for the night sky is forever changing. Who can guess what I will see next?

The observatory is an amazing building in and of itself. The main section has a retracting roof for its 16-inch telescope. The Calumet Astronomical Society is in the process of adding another building to house astrophotography classes in the future.

I think we’re very lucky to have the Calumet Astronomical Society and the Conway Observatory here in the region. I especially am grateful to the society for opening the observatory from time to time for public viewing.

If you’re looking for information about membership and events or directions to the observatory, check out