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Discovering the Cosmos

by Clare Coppa

Most astral phenomena can’t be seen without a telescope. Exposed to dramatic images of the cosmos as a child, ASTM member John Lentini landed two telescope observatories for the Boy Scouts of America in Atlanta, Ga. With the assistance of the Atlanta Astronomy Club which shares and helped fund the sites, Lentini orchestrated the placement of observatories at the scouts’ Woodruff and Bert Adams camps.

Woodruff has a 24 in. [610 mm] telescope. “We’ve seen all kinds of interesting things,” Lentini said. “The Whirlpool Galaxy is fun. That’s one galaxy that’s eating up another one near the handle of the Big Dipper. It’s very pretty. It’s two spiral galaxies that happen to be face-on to the earth, so that when we look at them we can actually see the spiral structure.” The Orion Nebula can be seen with this lens. “The middle star in the sword is actually not a star but a nebula. It’s a nursery for baby stars. You can look into that and see the stars being born.”

A volunteer for Troop 1011, Lentini became interested in astronomy as a scout and later with the Atlanta Astronomy Club. When his son Jerald joined the scouts in 1993, Lentini jump-started a tepid astronomy program by bringing his 4.5 in. [114 mm] telescope on camping trips.

You might say the program has grown. “There are about 50,000 boy scouts all together from metro Atlanta that have access to those camps. Then we have people coming from around the country. In fact, this summer we had some scouts from England who came up to the Woodruff reservation.

“We look at the usual crowd pleasers,” he noted, saying they search for the 110 objects catalogued by Charles Messier. “They’re some of the prettiest objects in the sky. They include galaxies, nebulae and globular clusters, which are some of the oldest star formulations in our galaxy.” Hands down, the scouts’ favorites are Jupiter and Saturn. Through the 8-in. [200 mm] telescope at the Bert Adams observatory, Jupiter appears about a quarter of an inch [6 mm] in diameter. They followed the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997 which Lentini described as “awesome.”

When not behind the telescope, Lentini manages a fire investigation and forensics lab for Applied Technical Services, Marietta, Ga. He developed standards on fire-debris analysis with ASTM Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences that were mentioned in a 1999 U.S. Department of Justice report, “Forensic Sciences: Review of Status and Needs,” identifying ways to meet forensic challenges.

As an amateur astronomer, Lentini’s focus is on enjoyment and public outreach. “Most kids these days don’t have a clue what the Milky Way is, particularly if they live in metro areas,” he said. “Most people growing up today don’t ever have a chance to appreciate what’s up there in the sky.”

Lentini and his son, Jerald.

Copyright 2001, ASTM