This video is provided by Scienceline, a project of New York University’s Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program.
Looking up to look within
By Joseph Castro | Video by Sarah Fecht and Joseph Castro
When you walk through the forest of Inwood Hill Park at night, it’s easy to forget you’re in New York City. Rather than the scent of exhaust mingled with the aroma of fresh pizza, you smell the trees and the soil. Instead of the sounds of honking horns and talkative pedestrians, you hear a symphony of birds and insects. Most of all, in place of dazzling city lights, you see the twinkling stars above, making the park the premiere location for amateur astronomy in Manhattan.
And every Saturday night, you’re sure to find Jason Kendall there with his telescopes, waiting for curious passersby to join him in a stargazing adventure.
Kendall is the director of the Inwood Astronomy Project, based in the Inwood neighborhood on Manhattan’s northern tip. He founded the project three years ago to bring astronomy to the local community and anyone else interested. Kendall is well known around Inwood, and his Saturday night stargazing events draw anywhere from a few to a few hundred people, some traveling from other areas in the city or even from neighboring states.
“There’s a sense of security in knowing that he’ll always be there,” said Jordan Kushner of New York City’s Amateur Astronomy Association, of which Kendall is a board member. “[It] really makes a difference to people.”
A native of Mankato, Minnesota, Kendall, 42, got hooked on astronomy in fourth grade when he saw the rings of Saturn through a telescope for the first time. “It kind of sticks with you,” he explained. Following his passion, Kendall went on to earn bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and astronomy from Mankato State University and a master’s degree in astronomy from New Mexico State University.
With his Inwood project, Kendall hopes to give people — children especially — the same opportunities to see the universe that he had as a child. And he doesn’t really care whether or not the kids go on to become astronomers. “It’s just simply opening a wedge for them so that life can be bigger than they think it is,” he said.