Volume 80, Number 2 | June 9-15, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Lincoln Anderson

Jeffrey Jacobs with his telescope on Bleecker St. last fall as “Pocahontus” took a look.

Sidewalk astronomer scopes out a favorite corner

By Lincoln Anderson 

Giving passersby a free peek at the heavens — and an expert description of what they’re looking at — Jeffrey Jacobs is proud to call himself a sidewalk astronomer.

A former Upper West Sider, he programs movie theaters by day. For the last decade, however, nights have sometimes found him driving his cannon-sized Dobsonian telescope down to the busy corner of Bleecker and Downing Sts. in the Village, where he sets it up for people to look through. 

One clear evening last September, he broke out the scope to view Jupiter and three of its moons, also visible in its orbit. (It actually has 62 moons, he noted.)

“I love this corner,” he said of the spot outside Churchill Park. “Plus, it’s all the people of the Village. I like to come here, because the people are here.”

 Jupiter and its lunar companions hung in the sky over the Lower East Side, at least when viewed from the west side of Sixth Ave.

As random pedestrians took turns peering into the scope’s peephole, he spouted informative facts:

“You could fit 1,300 Earths in the volume of Jupiter. ... Jupiter was first seen by Galileo 400 years ago. ... It’s the biggest planet in our solar system. ... If the sun was the size of a basketball, Jupiter would be a grape and the Earth would be a poppy seed.” The lesson being? “Stay humble, get over yourselves.”

“Who wants to see Jupiter and three of its moons?” he called out, like a professorial circus barker.

“It’s going away! It’s going away!” cried local resident Christine — a.k.a. “Pocahontus,” because of her braids — as she stared into the scope and one of Jupiter’s moons seemed to move out of view. 

“It’s not going away,” Jacobs calmly assured her. “The Earth is turning and I have to realign [the telescope].”

He was inspired by John Dobson, a former monk and the Dobsonian telescope’s inventor. Jacobs even directed a movie on him, called, naturally, “Sidewalk Astronomer.”

Astro guru Dobson’s theory is simple, Jacobs said: “If you’re lucky enough to own a scope, you have to share it with others.”

“Are you a scientist?” a passing stroller asked Jacobs.

He paused for a moment, then replied, “I’m a sidewalk astronomer.”

Later on, after the street had quieted down, his work done for the night, he packed up his telescope in a rolling cart, wheeled it back to his car, and drove home to Rye.

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