Astrophotography of the heavens above Gorga

The route to the heavens above Gorga, the only one, starts near Montelanico on the Colleferro road in the Sacco valley and winds its way for twenty minutes and 12 hair-pin bends up and around the mountainside, arriving at a small main square

The main square of Gorga is the end of the road for our horseless carriage and even for the Fiat Panda, built for this type of medieval village.

There are no roads in the old town, just lanes and alleys, stepped and staired, up and down around the labyrinth that the Gorgani built on the edge of the escarpment.

What stands out as you wander around the old town? Cats that suddenly awaken and dive for cover, lots of cats, all colours of the cat kingdom. And despite the apparent lack of sunlight in the alleys between the typical 3 or 4 level terraced structures, the village is bestrewn with pot-plants and bright spring flowers.

For this tale, we will let lie the stories of the several churches in the old town and comment only on the stone fountain sculpture by Ernesto Biondi and statue that stand impressively at the end of the main square.

The fountain appears to be a part of an ogre carved out of a stone and is fed from a source that came by aqueduct to the town. When I sat for a quiet glass of wine in the early evening, the only serious activity comprised locals coming to the fountain and filling their buckets with water that is reportedly of wonderful taste and quality.

Gorga is and was a rural community of sheep raising. Atop the fountain stands a bronze statue of a young shepherdess with two lambs at foot sculpted by Ernesto Biondi, famed in these areas.

Yet, the purpose of our visit on this crisp spring evening just after new moon, was to attend a presentation at the local Astronomical Observatory commencing late in the evening.

Astronomical Observatory

The role of the observatory is primarily for edutainment of students and enjoyment of tourists. But remember that viewing the skies through a telescope needs the darkest possible surroundings, so commencement before ‘pitch black’ is a waste of time.

These visits are hosted by a group of retired professional and amateur astronomers with excellence in the night sky and observation of it, both by optical telescopes and radio-astronomy.

The night comprises explanations and stories about exploration of the stars from ancient times, and then visits to two laboratories. Visitors are seated in lay-back chairs in the Planetarium and entertained by videos and features of activities in the night sky as we float underneath its hemispherical setting. Certainly, technology has made a visit to the planetarium much more exciting than in my youth.

Our first lab visit was to the radio-astronomy laboratory, that works in conjunction with another in Dijon, and is permanently recording ‘hits’ of the radar signal on bodies in the asteroid belt, with large bodies giving a ‘ping’ record of their size (say 10 metres). The equipment also records the passage of the space station with an extended series of pings.

For most people the excitement peak of the evening (that had rapidly moved towards midnight) was observation through the telescope of three heavenly bodies, a nascent galaxy, Jupiter and a nebula of a dying star.

For the fortunate professional or amateur photographer, a session of astrophotography can be arranged to record a unique view of the heavens above Gorga.

Remembering that the roof of the observatory must remain open during these events, one strong recommendation is for a parka and cap.

The experience is humbling as we are reminded of the impermanence of everything, but also exalting as we thrill to the glory of the universe, and joyful in appreciation of the enthusiasm and excellence of our hosts.