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Snapshot NY: Bringing The Heavens Down To Earth In The Bronx

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - In a bustling city of people on the move it is not often we look up.

On any given street corner in the Bronx, you might find a portal to another world.

Beyond the skyscrapers is a world that one amateur astronomer is bringing to New Yorkers, reports CBS2's Steve Overmyer.

"It's always amazed me to look up in the sky and see the moon go through its different phases," said John Benfatti of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. "It's phenomenal to learn about it."

For the past 15 years, Benfatti takes his high powered telescope to the streets.

Stargazing with the Amatuer Astronomers Association of New York
(credit: CBS2)

"What we try to do at the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York is to educate people, because the world doesn't have enough scientists," he said. "People are not into science anymore. And we'd like to change that."

There's a scientist in all of us. It starts with a natural curiosity.

"We're a tiny spec in the Milky Way Galaxy, and then you think there are billions of galaxies out there," said Benfatti. "There's got to be something else out there. We can't be the only intelligent life.

That's part of why astronomers look at the sky: To be discoverers.

His search for the previously unknown has never included a UFO – not once.

What he has given us includes beautiful images of the moon over Manhattan. With the naked eye, the cloud cover makes the moon hard to see.

Stargazing with the Amatuer Astronomers Association of New York
(credit: CBS2)

Under 100x magnification, the landscape is transformed.

"That's why I live for," said Benfatti. "To get that response from people of 'wow!' or 'oh wow!' I get adults saying that, and its wonderful."

Because there's no atmosphere to reshape the surface, the moon is saturated with impact craters which have been there for eons.

New York is not known for star gazing, Even at night, it has bright light.

"Light pollution is your enemy," he said. "New York is probably the least ideal and most light polluted place, but as you can see we can still see things."

Above the glittering lights of New York City, Jupiter and its four largest moons are visible because this is the month the planet is at its nearest. It's now only 365 million miles away.

Size and space is hard to imagine at the galactic scale. Everytime we look to the sky day or night, we're reminded our world is a tiny blue dot flying through the cosmos, a fact that drives the curiosity of every generation.

"We always wonder where we came from: Why we're here. How did the universe begin?" said Benfatti. "I hope I'm inspiring them to at least look up… learn about what's there and become part of the community that studies why we're here and how it all began."

Astronomers need to know physics and mathematics and chemistry

"I really want to study mechanical engineering at NASA for rockets and involving myself in the space community," said Benfatti.

This street corner provides proof you don't need a degree to enjoy the universe. All you have to do is take a peek.

The Amateur Astronomers Association offers free stargazing events throughout the city this summer.

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