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Looking Up in Peachtree Corners

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rafael garcia astronomy telescope technology
Rafael Garcia. surrounded by his Coulter Oddysey 12” Dobsonian reflector telescope on home-built tracking base. and an Orion Schmidt-Cassegrain catadioptric telescope with guiding motor in the foreground. Rafael used his laptop to run real time astronomical charts, eyepiece camera, and tracking. Sky charts; the old way of locating stars before the laptop and tablet lay before him.

When the brilliance of a clear night sky meets up with a young and impressionable mind, a lifelong fascination can result. Peachtree Corners resident Jay Brantley certainly exemplifies that.

“It started when I was about eight and I got a pair of binoculars and gazed up at the night sky, “he remembers. “I looked at the moon and it felt like I was pretty nearly on the moon. When I was 11, I got my first telescope and things evolved from there. The rest of the house would be asleep, and I was out with my telescope pointing it at the moon, the planets and the stars.”

Brantley started out wanting to be an astronomer, segued into engineering but has maintained his interest in Life, the Universe and Everything (to borrow from a book title) ever since. “There’s just something magical about it,” he said of astronomy.

Rafael Garcia, a retired architect and another longtime Peachtree Corners resident, has a similar childhood tale to tell. “Back around 1968, I had a little refracting telescope in Puerto Rico. We had a second story that had an opening to the sky, and I loved going up there. I could find many things other than the moon,” he said.

Garcia is of the generation that came of age during the moon race of the 60s-and says that also contributed to his decades-long fascination. “The whole concept of space travel was embedded in my psyche,” he said. “I saw the moon landing live on TV, so it’s always something I’ve been fascinated by. And I have always liked science.”

Stars in their own backyards

Jay Brantley, with his 150-millimeter refractor telescope, strong enough to see Jupiter, Saturn and distant galaxies.

Amateur astronomers have been prowling the night skies of Peachtree Corners for decades in parallel with the professionals who staff observatories and research black holes, the origin and evolution of stars and the formation of distant galaxies.

The backyard astronomers aren’t necessarily looking to push the boundaries of knowledge — they delight finding brighter sights, like the moon, the planets and their moons and even much more distant objects like the Orion nebula, star clusters and the Andromeda galaxy in the midst of a city where light pollution has grown steadily worse. Or they head for darker environs such as the north Georgia mountains to look for fainter objects. Others combine a love of roaming the universe with astrophotography, capturing breathtaking images of Saturn’s rings or streaking comets.

The technology involved with telescopes for the backyard buff has advanced steadily and prices have come down in the last 10 to 20 years, cutting out the tedious work of finding and then tracking celestial objects. These aren’t your grandpa’s telescopes.

“At one point, someone — it must have been my wife — gave me one of those department store telescopes,” said Ludwig Keck of Peachtree Corners, “and it illustrated very well why you shouldn’t have one of those. They make big [and to his thinking largely unfounded] claims on what you can see. They come with a tripod and a mount that aren’t very stable. And, of course, it has no drive, so you have to constantly reposition it.”

Modern consumer telescopic equipment of the last 10 to 20 years is a far cry from that. Motorized mounts and computer control make celestial tracking objects a snap — no constant repositioning.

Enthusiasts say you can program the equipment for a nighttime tour of whatever planets are visible, for example. Pair one of those higher-end telescopes together with a laptop, or even an app-equipped iPhone or Droid, and you’re in business.

Eyepiece and phone cameras can yield spectacular photographs. Even that app-equipped smartphone by itself can find and follow landmarks in the sky — no telescope required.

Spectacular night shows

Of course, one thing that hasn’t changed from the old days is the awe and wonder of having a front row to the universe.

Rafael Garcia’s photo of the moon during a solar eclipse, August 2017.

Jay Dunn is an assistant professor in physical sciences at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College. He teaches taught a slate of astronomy and physics courses and co-presides over the observatory on the Dunwoody campus, apparently the closest such facility to Peachtree Corners.

He says a major factor in his continued passion for the science is watching the amazed reactions as visitors peer through the eyepiece of their 14-inch telescope. “Even with less interested astronomy students, when they look through the telescope, they might drop an expletive,” he said.

Unfortunately, the observatory building was shuttered at press time due to COVID-19 restrictions. Dunn said they plan to reopen after getting the go-ahead from Georgia State officials.

Dunn is a professional, published research astronomer but is well in tune with what visitors like to see. He says the moon is most popular, particularly in the first quarter because shadows create an extra viewing dimension. Saturn and its rings also rank high.

Peachtree Corners sky watchers don’t disagree. Brantley says Jupiter, Saturn and distant galaxies are the preferred observational targets as objects that one can get more detail on, in contrast to stars. And when he points his 150-millimeter refractor telescope at the moon and invites youngsters to peer through the eyepiece, “They are absolutely mesmerized.”

Speaking to that same sense of youthful fascination, Keck was a Boy Scout leader and before taking kids on a campout, he’d consult a star chart and to learn what could be seen and what part of the sky it could be spotted in.

“I remember one trip where the Scouts were rowdy and talking and wouldn’t go to sleep, so well past midnight, I told them we were going on a star walk. After some hemming and hawing they complied,” he said. “We walked to a big field. And they were just fascinated. It was beautiful and clear and there were so many stars it was hard to pick out the constellations.”

The astronomy bug can be passed down through the generations. Garcia said his daughter is a semiprofessional photographer who does a great deal of astrophotography. He himself has linked an eyepiece camera to his motorized refracting telescope to take moon and eclipse shots and has posted them to a local photography club website.

Advice for stargazers

A word of caution — patience and technique are key for such photography. Forsyth Countian and retired broadcaster Jim Ribble has shot a plethora of sky pics. He says with fainter objects, the necessary light-gathering can take hours.

If he’s photographing Orion, for example, he might take hundreds of shots and then uses software to stack the 30-second frames into one, brilliant whole. He uses an 11-inch telescope and explains that the bigger the telescope, the more light it can gather, a key factor that outshines that of simple magnification.

And he enjoys the challenge. “It’s pointing the camera at a dark spot in the sky and realizing that it’s filled with incredible, colorful objects,” Ribble said.

Getting started in the hobby is akin to others, said astronomy buffs, as you can pretty much spend as much or as little as you want — $100 perhaps for a decent pair of binoculars to as much as $13,000-$15,000 for a very high-quality telescope.

With more time post-retirement, Garcia looks to point his higher-end refracting and reflecting hybrid telescope upward to find more galaxies as well as observing some of the planets. More digital photography is in the offing as well. And he’s among those who think that the SpaceX program and NASA’s plans to return to the moon and go onto Mars may fire up additional interest in celestial gazing.

For Brantley, there’s a strong linkage between astronomy and elemental questions of existence and origin. “You ask yourself the existential question ‘Are we alone?’ You look at another galaxy and it’s like our own, with billions of stars. Is there life there? There’s a philosophical debate on that and a religious debate. These are questions we’ve been asking ourselves since the dawn of humanity.”

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Community

Run the Gauntlet of Fitness

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Peachtree Corners Fitness Trail

How the Path to Fitness was “paved”

As businesses, restaurants, and gyms close down, we struggle more and more to meet our need to stay healthy. Fortunately, Peachtree Corners City Councilman Alex Wright has teamed up with city manager Brian Johnson to construct the Path to Fitness in the Peachtree Corners Town Center. Path to Fitness is a unique green space that combines the fresh air of the outdoors with high-quality fitness equipment akin, or even superior, to that you might use in a gym.

Using their experiences at the U.S. Army’s Ranger School, Wright and Johnson took note of the strenuous — but muscle-building — obstacle courses that were made to create herculean soldiers. They shaped wood and bent steel into stationary equipment to aid residents in developing their body both conveniently and efficiently.

Brian Johnson stated “…we had a certain institutional knowledge of certain things that we could create, so I asked Mike if he could create some of those as a way to help this group…  come out here and enjoy some unique fitness equipment that could be integrated in their normal workout routine [and] help  them work muscle groups that they wouldn’t be able to normally work in another setting.”

The Path to Fitness includes a number of pieces of high -quality equipment. According to Councilman Wright, “I have to say that there’s a lot of excitement because they didn’t really know what to expect! They’re thinking, you know, just regular playground equipment, but we’ve got a 20-foot rope climb here… some very unique monkey bars.”

Of course, the Path does not end there:  the trail also includes a few pull-up bars, a sit-up station, as well as a wall climb. It must be emphasized that the trail is meant for fitness, not for use as a playground. So make sure to supervise your children if you decide to substitute your YMCA subscription for a free walk on the Path to Fitness!

Councilman Alex Wright on the wall.

Some of the exercises you can do on the fitness trail:

Check out the full YouTube playlist of all the things you can do on the Fitness Trail at Peachtree Corners Network

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City Government

Report an issue with the free Peachtree Corners Fix-it app

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peachtree corners fix it app

It’s now easier than ever to report an local issue by using the free Peachtree Corners Fix-it app.

To Create a Report

  1. Select “Create” from the menu.
  2. Log in, create an account, or click “Create anonymously…”
  3. Click the box under “Select a Report Type” and select a type from the menu that appears at the bottom, then click “Done”.
  4. Under “Where is the problem” click the map; set the location by entering an address in the search box or by clicking the location on the map, then click “Done”.
  5. Click in the box under “Tell us more details” to answer additional questions and/or enter a description of the problem. Please include the address.
  6. Under “Add photos, video, or audio” click the paper clip icon to upload a file.
  7. Click “SUBMIT”.

To View the Status of a Report

  1. Select “View” from the menu.
  2. Select an item from the list, or click the map icon at the far right to see all reported issues on a map.
  3. Click a flag on the map, then click the status box to see details of the report.

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City Government

Tiffany P. Porter Takes Office as Gwinnett Tax Commissioner

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Tiffany Porter

Tiffany P. Porter assumed the Office of the Tax Commissioner for Gwinnett County effective today, the first African American to do so in the county’s history.

Porter campaigned on a platform of bringing a new type of leadership to Gwinnet that builds upon the legacy of past leaders.

“I’m honored that voters put their faith and trust in me,” Porter said. “I believe in civic duty and promise to serve all Gwinnett residents to the best of my ability.”

Prior to being elected tax commissioner, Porter served as the first African American judge in Duluth Municipal Court and had founded two law firms. In addition to serving on the bench and practicing law, Porter appears weekly as a legal analyst for the Court TV network.

Porter has a law degree from Emory University and was admitted in 2009 to the State Bar of Georgia. She also earned a master’s degree in Business Administration from Georgia State University and a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, where she graduated with honors.

A 20-year resident of Gwinnett County and the mother of four, Porter is the first in her family to attend college and the first to earn a law degree. She is a 19-year member of Life Church International in Duluth, a 20-year member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and a proud two-time breast cancer survivor.

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