James Falese ’14 Brings Passion for Astronomy To Observatory Responsibilities

Every Wednesday, as students and faculty peer through a 16-inch computerized telescope and gaze at stars millions of miles away, James Falese ’14 deftly points out a myriad of constellations. Falese is the student caretaker of the Observatory, responsible for fixing the equipment and preparing the Observatory for open houses and alumni events. The Observatory, located on the third floor of Gelb Science Center, is open to the public every clear Wednesday evening from 8:00p.m. to 9:00p.m. “When you look through the telescope, it’s just so beautiful. There are certain things you can look at a million times, and they never cease to amaze you,” said Falese. Falese also works on small astronomy projects for the Science Department, such as taking pictures of constellations and other celestial bodies. Falese said that he loves seeing people who are interested in astronomy, especially the youngest visitors. “Sometimes faculty members will come with their kids who are seeing this stuff for the first time,” Falese said. “[The kids] are usually amazed by the size of the telescope, and sometimes when they move the telescope, they even think for a moment that the floor is moving.” Falese said the younger children’s amazement reminds him of his first exposure to astronomy when he was six years old. Falese began to love astronomy at Andover, though not at Phillips Academy. “I was at the Andover Bookstore, and there was this huge picture in an astronomy book about the solar system and the stars. I memorized that book by heart, basically,” he said. Falese’s interest has only grown since. He first discovered Andover’s Observatory during his re-visit day when he attended an open house session in Gelb. Falese said he was determined to work with the telescope and expressed his interest in astronomy with his advisor, Patricia Russell, Instructor in Biology, who introduced him to Caroline Odden, Instructor in Physics and the supervisor of the Observatory. Falese’s work in the Observatory required two full terms of training during his Junior year and fulfills his work duty requirement. Michael Berube ’11, the previous caretaker of the Observatory, began training Falese last November. Berube taught Falese how to set up and use the 16- inch Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector telescope, troubleshoot the computerized mechanisms and prepare the Observatory for open houses. Falese said, “I will probably be doing this for the next three years if no one else wants to. However, if anyone is interested, they should feel free to step up. I would probably be training them.” Falese is also involved in the community service project YDO Astronomy and wishes to pursue an astronomy-related independent project. Falese said that he hopes more people will use the Observatory since Phillips Academy is one of the very few high school campuses that has one. “I think having an Observatory is really unique to Phillips Academy, and it’s great to take advantage of that and see things that one would never be able to see at a high school level with their own eyes. It’s a really unique experience,” Falese said. Andover’s Observatory, originally designed as a separate building, was incorporated into the Gelb building during the building’s production due to a decrease in funding. Falese said that these sudden changes in plans caused some flaws in the visibility from the Observatory. The chimneys on top of Gelb sometimes obstruct the telescope’s view, and the Observatory’s telescope lacks a pylon, a long supporting pole that extends into the ground, because it is located on the third floor. Falese said that vibration from the air conditioners often distorts the view as well. “Nevertheless, I hope to continue learning about astronomy with this amazing tool,” he said.