Mark Holden: the educator & stargazer
Shelton resident Mark Holden wears many hats in life.
If you’re not familiar with the chairman of the Board of Education for Shelton Public Schools, you may know him as the owner of The Holden Agency, a member of Shelton’s substance abuse council or from serving on the Shelton Republican Town Committee.
Holden juggles many tasks and is very involved with the schools.
What many people don’t know about Holden is that when he’s not working in the schools or on his own business, you can catch him organizing events that focus on a passion of his own, astronomy.
“To me, the sky is like a big art museum, with many beautiful things to observe,” said Holden.
Since 1978, Holden has been a member of the Boothe Memorial Astronomical Society. For the last several years, he has been president of the group.
When the club members meet on the first and third Friday nights of each month at about 8 p.m., they set up several telescopes on the grounds of Boothe Memorial Park in Stratford, just adjacent to the cemetery.
“I realized joining the group would be a great way to get access to good telescopes and people who could help me learn what I needed to know to enjoy the hobby,” Holden said.
“You really must see Saturn, it’s really something beautiful,” said member and StarTalk Radio Community Manager Stacey Severn.
The society was formed in 1953 by a local group of professional and amateur astronomers. The observatory that still stands today was built in 1957.
Inside the dome-shaped observatory are two telescopes – 16-inch classical Cassegrain telescope with optics by Perkin Elmer, and a four-inch Unitron Refractor telescope.
Unfortunately, according to Holden, the dome in its entirety needs to be replaced, but some of the repairs will be done so it can be used for Mars observing this summer.
The classical Cassegrain telescope was designed by the same folks who did the mirrors for the Hubble Space Telescope, according to Holden. It was also optimized for the study of planets, and it was redesigned and rebuilt a couple of years ago by club member George Desantis.
“It now performs better than ever,” said Holden.
In addition to the regular meetings, the observatory is opened for public open houses, school groups, Jaycees, and other groups that may be interested in hands-on introduction to observational astronomy.
When the group meets, the members are often spread out across the grounds for several hours, depending on what they are looking to see. Currently, Messier 13 (M13), Jupiter, the moon, and Saturn are the celestial site often observed.
However, this July will be the best time to observe Mars until 2035, according to Holden.
“What I’m also looking into is setting up an observing night in Shelton in conjunction with the Board of Education,” Holden said.
Holden said he believes in promoting interest in science, and often says the society is available to do talks or set up telescopes for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) nights at local schools. Along with Holden, there are nearly two dozen members in the society.
Elliot Severn, in particular, has been a part of the group for years. He built his own telescope and loves to show it off when he gets a good angle on various places, like the moon for example.
Severn is a STEM educator with the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. In addition, he is also a writer and photographer for AmericaSpace, and a photographer with StarTalk.
“Frankly, I’d rather be known as someone who enjoys making good things happen, than as someone with a stuffy resume,” said Holden on his many accomplishments.
To become a member of the Boothe Memorial Astronomical Society, all you first have to do is show up. Membership dues are $25 for the year for an individual or $35 for a family.
If you would like to know more about the group, you can visit the society’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Boothe-Memorial-Astronomical-Society- 121301611237519/