Meet Rick Costello – a figure and an astronomer | South Berkshire
STOCKBRIDGE – You may have seen it. In his natural habitat, on a moonless evening, he is a black silhouette on our tilted planet, a tourist guide to the stars.
Dear earthlings, he’s here with a public service announcement: The universe is huge and ancient and the only sane response to it is humility.
Under the sparkle of a trillion mysteries, people gather around him. They come to meet him on Baldwin Hill in Egremont. Near the Great Barrington Library. By the pine-backed pulchritude of the October mountain. Black figures of the same species congregate on chilly evenings, and in puzzling puffs of disintegrating vapor, they will ask him:
How did it all happen?
Have you ever seen alien planes?
Is there a God?
Kind and conservative, he won’t wince when they wonder, “Wait, you mean our sun is a Star? “
That is precisely why he is here – to educate an astronomically illiterate population.
Rick Costello is his name. He rents an apartment in Stockbridge. He was born in 1960, raised in Connecticut. At the age of 4, he borrowed his father’s binoculars and squinted to see the craters of the moon. As an adult, he delivered packages for a parcel service. But, in 2012, he left everything. He fled the millions of bulbs of the lowlands to settle here in the Berkshire Hills, drawn to good friends and dark skies.
Nowadays, at nightfall, it stops at various places in a Subaru, its tailgate pointed towards infinity. He unloads 120 pounds of equipment: lenses, a tripod and a telescope capable of listening to Andromeda.
Our galaxy has approximately 1,000 billion stars. There are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the observable universe. This necklace of light above our heads, our Milky Way galaxy, is about 1,000 light years thick and over 100,000 light years in diameter. It spins at 600,000 mph. It takes around 225 million years for our solar system to complete a full rotation around the galaxy.
Costello keeps a tip pot lit with a little flashlight because we all need to eat.
It is available for private parties.
Even though his mind is eccentricated by the gravitational disturbances of the cosmos, Costello remains firmly grounded, a citizen of Earth.
He paints. He enjoys kayaking.
“If you look at any photo of the Garden of Eden, it’s here. It’s Earth, ”he says. “It’s heaven, folks.”
The sky is still 5 billion years old before the sun swallows it whole.
The one and only downside to his heavenly late-night rubber collar is that he’s rarely awake to see the sunrise, which he adores.
But, this is the consequence of a decision he made in 1994. Costello, an amateur astronomer, was never formally trained – although he reads, reads, reads and reads – before starting to do telescope shows anywhere and everywhere.
He feels compelled to show people the world above their heads because, he says, “I have a good telescope.” It’s a Meade LX 90, a 12 inch, an investment of over $ 3,000, and it includes a defogger.
“About 95% of the people I meet have never looked through a telescope,” says Costello. “I find it a shame – never to have seen Saturn or Jupiter.”
Here, come on, look.
On a recent evening at the Chestnut Preserve off Route 7 in Stockbridge, he got it all set. The storms of the previous days had deviated from the city, taking with them the smoke of the western wildfires and leaving behind a perfect, clear evening – “One of the best nights I have ever seen,” says Costello.
The center of the Milky Way is right there, between two trees.
A severe meteor sweeps across the atmosphere. There’s more where it came from, and where it came from a comet, Swift-Tuttle. Spending time with Costello means being introduced to many new vocabulary terms, many new proper nouns, and many mind-boggling realities.
You will not be tested. Ideally, for Costello, you’ll step away from his telescope to learn more about the world we live in so that when you meet him again, he has someone to talk to.
It becomes lonely when you are one of the few people who know that our solar system is heading towards Hercules, some 250 light years above the pancake-shaped plane of our galaxy.
It becomes lonely when your mind vibrates knowing that everything we see and everything we physically are – the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones – is made up of elements from exploding stars.
Where should such information be deposited? Between the memory of paying the electricity bill and the date of your mother’s birthday? Where?
And no, he doesn’t believe in God, or at least in a creator who holds us at the center of existence.
“I see it that way,” Costello says. “The universe is 13.8 billion years old. Every billion years is worth a thousand million, you know what I mean? It’s amazing how long this is. By the time the Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, our galaxy was already over 9 billion years old. And humans have only been around for maybe 250,000 years. It seems like a long time for us not to be there to do everything around us. I am not a believer, no.
Extraterrestrial life? He’s a believer. He says that on precisely eight occasions he has seen objects in our atmosphere that cannot be explained, in the Berkshires, Vermont and Connecticut.
“I saw boats,” he said, “and they are not ours. “
What is the scariest thing he has seen on a dark night while gazing at the stars? A cougar, right over there by the woodland line. He stayed there one night watching it.
As for all of this – the creation – how does he think it all happened?
“Who knows?” he said. “We’re not going to know the answers for a long time.”
Meanwhile, as he scans space, he remembers the very thing that cannot be disputed: that humans have an obligation to take care of this common home, Earth. We fail, he says, and our failure is “disgusting.”
“We’re not special here. If the Earth doesn’t love us, it will get rid of us, ”he says. “Species are disappearing every day. Most of this is caused by us. If you ruin the ecosystem, it will eventually get us. It is necessary to talk about it. “
But, right now, he wants to talk about the closest star to our solar system. His telescope spins to face Proxima Centauri.
“Check that out,” he said, inviting one to look into the eyepiece to stare and meditate. Proxima Centauri winks, a faint red eruption 4.2 light years away, or nearly 25 trillion miles.
And – whirring – this is Vega, straight ahead: 25 light years away. And that bright over there is Deneb, 1,400 to 2,000 light years away.
“Eventually,” he said, “it’s going to become a supernova. Maybe a few hundred thousand years from now.
In other words, soon.