This week, we would like to highlight one of AAA's longest-running members, and former Club President, Michael O'Gara!
Name: Michael O’Gara
Hometown: Born in Bayshore, NY. Lived for 40+ years in NYC, now reside near Hudson, NY
How did you get involved in AAA? I was shopping around for my first scope and walked into a store on 57th & 2nd Ave. The prices for telescopes were a bit shocking but he salesman said “even if you don’t buy a scope from me you should check these people out”, and handed me a brochure for the AAA.
When did you become interested in astronomy? As a kid. My 1st grade teacher Mrs. Pyle did a star identification party on the lawn of the school in the fall. We brought blankets and she used a flashlight to point out constellations. The skies were fairly dark on Long Island in 1959. Before that, we were excited about Sputnik, and then in 1960 came Echo 1. We actually saw it from our backyard.
When was the first time you looked through a telescope and what did you observe? I think I may have seen the moon as a kid, but in modern times (1988) it was at a AAA Staten Island observing session at Great Kills. I looked at Saturn through an Astro-Physics refractor and I was blown away.
What is your favorite observable object from NYC? Your favorite observable object outside of NYC? I really like the Ring Nebula M57. It’s a great tool to show what will happen to our sun in a few billion years. In a dark sky I’m drawn to the Veil Nebula, or M13 with the galaxy NGC 6207 beside it. Never get tired of them.
Do you have any equipment, and if so, what kind? I’m a telescope maker of sorts, so I have my first scope I made, a 6″ F8, an 8″f/4.8, an 8″f/4 recently made along with an 8″f2.8. The I have a scope I put together with a mirror made for me that’s a 16″ f/2.9. I also have a Pronto for grab and go travel purposes.
If you could have any equipment in the world, what would it be? A machine to make the clouds go away at night. Or a 30-inch folded Newtonian, that weighs next to nothing.
What astronomical experience/event sticks out in your head the most? The first ever Starfest in Central Park. Comet Hyakutake at Fahnestock park and The Jupiter Comet crash in Central Park. Laying on my back in 2000 and watching the Leonids all night. My first total solar eclipse in 1998, and an amazing auroral display on Long Island in 1971.
Are there any astronomy-related pieces of media that you’d like to recommend? (Books, movies, etc.) I’m a sucker for Hollywood renderings of any space related stuff. So too many to mention. But I still appreciated A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.
Any other hobbies you’d like to share? Telescope making, traveling, cooking Thai and Indian food, birding, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Spelling Bee, Wordle, and traveling…again!