Unlocking the stars in southwest Minnesota

CAMDEN STATE PARK – The weather conditions were looking a little dicey as Mike Lynch aimed his telescope at the sky over the Camden State Park horse camp on Saturday night.

Low-hanging clouds kept hiding the stars from view, just about as quickly as Lynch could swivel the telescope around to face a clear spot. It’s something that happens more often than he’d like, he said.

But after 10 p.m. or so, the sky cleared, and audience members who stayed late at Lynch’s talk on astronomy got the chance to see the Milky Way and more.

“This is fabulous. It’s really getting good,” Lynch said, after focusing in on a double star in the constellation Cygnus.

As younger audience members took turns looking into the telescope’s eyepiece, the reactions were enthusiastic, too. “I see a lot of stars,” one child said.

Lynch, a WCCO meteorologist and avid stargazer, hosted Star Watch events at Lake Shetek and Camden State Park over the weekend. About 25 people, both adults and kids, came out to Lynch’s presentation at Camden Park. Lynch started out by giving audience members some of the basics of astronomy, like what stars are made of. (The answer: giant balls of extremely hot gas.)

“Does anyone know what makes stars shine?” Lynch said.

“Gravity?” replied one young audience member.

“It is gravity. That’s what does it,” Lynch said. The pressure of gravity on stars is so great, that nuclear fusion takes place inside them, creating light and heat.

During the second part of the talk, Lynch pointed out constellations visible in the summer sky, like the Northern Cross and the Big Dipper – although technically, he said, “The Big Dipper is not a constellation.”

“It’s part of a bigger constellation, Ursa Major,” which means ‘Big Bear,’ Lynch said. The dipper is actually supposed to be the hindquarters and tail of the bear. “The problem with constellations is they really don’t look like what they’re supposed to be.”

As the sky cleared up Saturday and more stars became visible, Lynch was able to turn the telescope toward sights like star clusters. Lynch said being able to share the stargazing experience with other people was a fun part of his job.

“I love it,” Lynch said. “I usually say this earlier (in the presentation), but – welcome to my passion.”