Category Archives: Local Attractions

In Which I See Some Light from A Few Million Years Ago

Do you know why the Milky Way is so named?  It’s shaped like a disk, and since we sit inside of that disk, there’s a particular direction we can look and see the “thickest” slice of our galaxy (from where we are to the edge).  This slice appears as a band across the sky, milky because our eyes can’t distinguish the billions of individual stars from one another.  The sight of this illuminated strip, a reminder of our own insignificant place orbiting one star out of a few hundred billion in one galaxy out of a couple hundred billion, is truly amazing.  Have you seen it before?

If not, you should really head over for a tour of the Mees Observatory.  The observatory, owned and operated by the University of Rochester and about an hour’s drive away, sits on the highest point in Ontario County; given the low levels of light pollution there, it’s kind of like “the best seat in the house” when it comes to observing the stars (and other such astronomical objects).

The trip started with a powerpoint.  Well, no, the trip started with the bus ride over (which I planned to spend reading but, naturally, got sucked into a conversation about Marxism and television and Ramadan and what those all have to do with each other, because a bus ride with Rochester students is never boring).  And then continued with us getting out of the bus to stand on a dais outside the house that treated us to this panorama:


And then with us getting coffee and donuts.

But after all of that, there was a powerpoint, courtesy of our tour guide Dave Cameron.  Highlights of the presentation include: everyone at the UR has been pronouncing Gannett wrong (actually guh-NET), and the house at the observatory is named after him; on any given night there will be about 3 dozen satellites visible, most of which are garbage (“we’re polluting the sky”); the night of our visit was the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11, of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin fame; someone asked “Does Pluto still exist?” when we were naming off the planets; and, as beautiful as our auroras are on Earth, listening to Saturn’s aurora provided me with a brand new soundtrack for my worst nightmares.

Overall, the presentation was fun and engaging.  We did pause for a moment during to head outside and see an iridium flare, which is when an iridium communication satellite catches the light just so, and, well, flares.  The flash can be incredibly bright, up to 30 times brighter than Venus, and I’m really sorry that I just ruined that one time you thought you saw a UFO (if you’re interested, you can plan a viewing here).

The tour continued with a trek into the actual observatory.  There are two parts to the observatory: a control room and the telescope.

The control room, running on computers older than me, locks in on a star (or other object) and moves the telescope.


Meanwhile, up in the telescope area, you can rotate the ceiling to reveal some pretty spectacular views.

To help you navigate in the dim red lighting, there were carefully placed glow-in-the-dark stars.
To help you navigate in the dim red lighting, there were well placed glow-in-the-dark stars, which we all found equal parts helpful and amusing.

The first thing we saw was Saturn, and all its rings.  The rings are only about 30-300 ft. thick and more than 750 million miles away (point of comparison: that’s more than 100 times the combined height of every single living person)… and yet, here they were, clearly visible.  I saw how the planet was tilted, and the swirls on its surface.  I don’t know the best way to communicate what it was like to see something that cool, but I will say that the first person to go up and take a peek simply exclaimed: wow.

We saw a ring nebula, and (my personal favorite) the Hercules globular cluster.  All the while, Eric Mamajek, a UR professor, answered our questions and shared stories about the universe and where it came from (and let us know that if we’re interested, we can learn much more about it in Astronomy 105 or 111 next semester).

An expedition to Niagara Falls or Letchworth State Park can certainly be beautiful, but to me, there’s something even cooler about being a tourist of your solar system.  We ended the night by going out, looking up at the stars, and seeing the band across the sky that gives our galaxy its name: the Milky Way, the ultimate sightseeing experience.

PS: if you follow that Mees Observatory link, it loads a different background picture whenever you refresh the page, so have fun with that.

A Stop at Sticky Lips

With only a few more weeks left of my summer adventure in Rochester, I have been trying to squeeze in as much as possible. However, my work schedule in my research position has been quite unpredictable, leaving me with awkward hours, and more importantly, awkward meal times. So, this week, I took an impromptu, after work trip to one of my favorite and now quite familiar Rochester spots: Sticky Lips.

If anyone asks me whether I prefer Dinosaur BBQ or Sticky Lips, my answer is always the underdog, Sticky Lips. The pulled pork sandwich, pictured above, my classic order, always pairs harmoniously with any of the four traditional Sticky Lips sauces provided at each table at the restaurant. Rotating throughout the four allows for no level of monotony at any time  during my meal.

While it was the mere lack of sweet potato fries at Dino that first got me to try Sticky Lips, my first visit certainly won me over. I’d suggest trying them both if you’re living here in Rochester and decide for yourself, you just might be surprised!

In Which Some Very Nice Potatoes Are Purchased

One of my friends turned to Tony, the man behind the long table (I assume it was a table, though I don’t think any ‘table’ was actually visible beneath the canopy of produce), and asked how long her potatoes will keep. ‘Put ’em in the fridge, they’ll last a long time.’ IMG_0658

That ‘long time’ is, in fact, 2-3 months, by which time next semester will have begun and this morning’s trip to Rochester’s Public Market will probably be a vague memory. But the chance to talk to the person who grew your potatoes and ask how long you’ve got before you need to roast, boil, mash, or otherwise use them up, is one of the great parts of the Public Market.

Continue reading In Which Some Very Nice Potatoes Are Purchased

A Western NY Beach Battle: Ontario vs. Canandaigua

In my  humble opinion, there is truly nothing more lovely than a weekend, summer afternoon spent at the beach. For those of us who might not have not grown up with breezy, palm-y California beaches at our fingertips, the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes do not disappoint.

The past few weekends I decided to compare two of the closer and most frequented lakes by Rochester students over the summer: Lake Ontario and Canandaigua Lake. I visited both on beautiful, Sunday afternoons.

The first weekend was Lake Ontario, which because of its close proximity to U of R, is where most students venture out to on the Continue reading A Western NY Beach Battle: Ontario vs. Canandaigua

A Letchworth Getaway: worth it!

While the city of Rochester offers its residents plenty to do each weekend, a couple of friends and I decided that  we wanted to get away this past weekend and make peace with our inner-Chris McCandlesses (any Into The Wild fans!?)  And we did just that!

Two days and one night spent camping and hiking at Letchworth State Park was the perfect reward for our long weeks stacked with classes, internships, and studying. We embarked early Saturday morning, after a pit stop at Wegman’s, of course, and spent the entirety of our day exploring the falls and enjoying the sun.

According the park personnel that we encountered in our days at Letchworth, “Inspiration Point” was the view not to miss. Although we cheated and drove closer than most before “hiking” there, the view of the higher falls this angle gave us was just as spectacular as we’d hoped.

Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point

It was hard to imagine that we were less than an hour away from U of R’s campus while nestled away in our campsite this weekend, especially after noticing how many stars we could actually see once night fell.  We’ll definitely be back this summer, even if it’s just for the day!

Friends setting off Into The Wild
Friends setting off Into The Wild