Local Astronomer Shares His Interest in the Sky

Rod Cortright grew up gazing at stars near his family’s farm in southern Michigan, and now is an amateur astronomer with his own observatory.

Cortright, a retired agricultural, natural resources and public policy agent for Michigan State University Extension, created Wildwood Observatory in Boyne City. He photographs planets and stars using a large reflecting telescope in his observatory. The facility also contains multiple small telescopes and room with a computer that allows Cortright to edit photos he takes of space. Cortright’s interest in stars goes back to when he would observe the sky while walking between his grandparents’ farm and his family’s farm at night. He said there was a “beautiful, big sky.” His first telescope was one his grandmother gained in a raffle.

“Basically, it was a terrible telescope,” he said. “It was on a very unstable frame. You would spend half the night trying to find the moon, much less anything else.”

He said he did not start “investing seriously” in astronomy until he retired. In 2011, he and other astronomy enthusiasts founded the Northern Michigan Astronomy Club. The club meets monthly on his property. Cortright also presents to youth about astronomy and writes articles for local newspapers.

He described the experience of showing people the sky through telescopes, and when they see Saturn for the first time.

“First time somebody sees Saturn in a telescope, I’ve never had anybody be not anything but totally impressed,” he said. “Because you see the rings and everything, and it looks like a picture.” He said these experiences are “really quite rewarding” for him.

The astronomy club is hosting a star party from Aug. 9-11 at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park.

“Everybody brings their telescopes, and we’re out all night long,” he said. “And people can come, and we just show people things in the sky.”

Astronomy is a field that anyone can become interested in, according to Cortright.

“The thing that’s neat about astronomy is anybody can get into it,” he said. “We have many amateurs who have made, in fact they continue to make, significant discoveries.”

Cortright can be reached at cortrigh@msu.edu.

From an article posted June 7, 2018 at The Graphic