An Ode to the Stars

Turner Farm’s Astronomy Festival

Despite cloudy weather, star enthusiasts from across the county gathered at Turner Farm on Saturday, March 11, to celebrate the Analemma Society’s Astronomy Festival.

Founded in 1998, the Analemma Society hosts a plethora of astronomy events for locals and visitors of Great Falls to enjoy. The Astronomy Festival, normally held in the winter, is one of their most anticipated annual events. 

“We get thousands of people here over the years,” Lead Volunteer Jeff Kretsch said. “We give [visitors] a pretty good idea of how astronomy works, the earth’s motions, things like that.”

Hosting activities such as astronomy bingo, clay planet modeling, and constellation chalk art, attendees had an astronomical amount of options to join under a starless sky. The passionate buzz of the volunteers, each with their own unique celestial attachments, really made the event out of this world. 

“I’m in the United States because of astronomy,” volunteer Kamana Mathur said. “My dad was a mathematics professor at the University of Lucknow, and he wrote some research papers that the American government found out about […] and they invited him to the U.S. to help put a man on the moon.”

The star of the festival was Turner Farm’s very own observatory, boasting four powerful telescopes underneath a retractable roof. While the equipment may be daunting to some, the park’s experienced volunteers and astronomy aficionados are eager to help guests get the most out of their stargazing.

“We’ve been observing out here for close to 20 years, and I’ve been [part of] the Northern Virginia Astronomy club for over 25,” volunteer Alan Figgatt said. “About five years ago we finally got the [observatory] built, and we’ve been operating it ever since for the public outreach program.”

I’m in the United States because of astronomy.

— Kamana Mathur

While the stars unfortunately remained hidden during the event, Turner Farm allows visitors to use their facility for stargazing every Friday (weather permitting).  

“I was here during the week, and [..] you could see all the stars,” Mathur said. “You could even see the craters on the moon. If the weather’s really cloudy then they might cancel it, but [the astronomy festival] was a major event so they didn’t want to cancel.”

If you missed out on this year’s festival, fear not: Turner Farm has countless voyages on the horizon; just be sure to keep your eyes peeled

“If you want to do [astronomy] as a hobby, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Kretsch said. “If you want to go further, it’s like everything else: if you really put your nose to the grindstone, you can do it.”