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Spencer Rinkus/Medill

Joseph Guzmán calls himself The Chicago Astronomer and heads the outreach group Chicago Astronomers. He directs his telescope at the full moon and then invites the public to take a peek.

Phases of Moon

Joesph Guzmán/Chicago Astronomer

Astronomer Joseph Guzmán captured the various phases of the moon during a recent  viewing session of Chicago Astronomers.

Chicago Astronomers bring stars close to home

by Spencer Rinkus
April 06, 2010

Map of spot

Joseph Guzmán/Chicago Astronomer

The Chicago Astronomers gathered near the Adler Planetarium recently to invite the public to view a full moon and several planets.

A dedicated collective of amateur astronomers loaded up their telescopes, gathered on the south lawn of the Adler Planetarium and waited for the clock to strike 8:27 p.m., when the full moon would rise over the waters of Lake Michigan and their observation session could begin.

The group, aptly called the Chicago Astronomers, gather monthly or for any celestial excitement such as a meteor shower.

Some are ambassadors to NASA, others political consultants, some work in retail during the day. But each are dedicated to bringing a greater knowledge of the cosmos to the people of Chicago. And families, interested stargazers and the occasional runner soon joined them for their recent viewing party. 

“We get together, informally, with our telescopes, and share it with the public,” said JosephGuzmán, administrator and founder of the Chicago Astronomers,“We just enjoy having a look at the night sky.” 

Members of the group also volunteer to operate the telescopes at the Adler Planetarium, in addition to providing their own equipment on the lawn.  The Adler houses the largest telescope in the Midwest and the Chicago Astronomers donate their services to add to museum programs.

The problem with the planetarium, as Guzmán points out, is that it closes early (4 pm during the week), just when astronomy really kicks off.  So, the group picks a spot nearby and brings out their own equipment.

This is why Guzmán formed the group in May of 2004. He used to set up his telescope outside Adler, before he worked there as a volunteer, he said.  Workers would walk by and ask him why he was outside. "I wanted to be an independent, radical astronomer," laughed Guzmán.  

They stay until they freeze, get kicked out, or get hungry, said Linda Savcedo, another member of the Chicago Astronomers and a political consultant.

Shortly after the group set up, an orange-colored moon that looked a lot like traditional textbook pictures of Mars, began its climb above the horizon.  

“If it was Mars, we’d be in some serious trouble,” laughed Guzmán.

Savcedo pointed out that, as the moon first rises, onlookers are looking through less and less of the atmosphere so it appears more golden. 

As the full moon continued its rise in the night sky, the Chicago Astronomers directed attention towards other planetary events, despite the glow of nearby city lights.

“People are always saying: ‘you can’t see anything in Chicago,’” said Guzmán, while peering through one of his two telescopes. But there areplanets, clusters, galaxies and nebula—yes you can.”  

At the gathering, about 10 people visited the Astronomers over the course of the night, and used some of the four telescopes the astronomers had on hand.  Visitors caught the full moon, spotted the Big Dipper and Saturn was identified opposite the moon in the sky. 

“Saturn is a cool thing to see. It’s hard to describe, it’s better to just look, ” said Savcedo as she pointed someone towards one of the ‘scopes.  

Paulie Christman, a new member of the Chicago Astronomers who came to the viewing from Indiana, lined up his telescope to expose the ringed planet for onlookers. 

Guzmán maintains a Web site as the “Chicago Astronomer,” and informs fellow astronomers of when viewing sessions are to occur.  

The group meets “when time, motivation, and the sky line up,” said Guzmán.  

When those three criteria are in-synch, it doesn’t matter the weather forecast.  Steve Dombeck, another volunteer at Adler and a member of the club, remembers one viewing party when the sky was just right, but the weather was all-wrong,  

“We came out for an eclipse, and people kept coming out to see if we were frozen,” joked Dombeck, a retail salesman. 

The group is committed to bringing amateur astronomy to the people of Chicago.  They offer their equipment and expertise to those that wander by, hoping that curiosity gets the best of onlookers.  

“People come by and say ‘how much?’ said Guzmán. He tells them to have a look, because, as he points out,  “The sky’s are free.”  

More information on the club and planetarium can be found at and