Coulehan Moon

Vinny Coulehan has stars in his eyes. The longtime Dobbs Ferry resident, a retired engineer, has been photographing celestial bodies since the mid-‘80s. Next month he’ll share his work with the public at the Visitor Center of Rockefeller State Park Preserve.

Last summer, Coulehan, 65, was invited to lead monthly astronomy events at the Preserve. Weather permitting, he set up one of his telescopes on a trail to offer participants of all ages a close look at planets, the moon, galaxies, star clusters, and other cosmic matter. 

As the elements sometimes scuttle open-air events, Coulehan will give a presentation of his photographs inside the Visitor Center Art Gallery on Thursday, Feb. 3, from 5-6 p.m. Many of his photos were taken at his home.

For example, he photographed the last lunar eclipse of 2021, on Nov. 18. That partial eclipse was the longest since the 15th century, and could be seen from North and South America, Australia, and parts of Europe and Asia. 

“I knew it was going to be cloudy until 3 a.m., so I set my alarm,” he explained. “I set up two cameras on tripods; I took pictures of the Moon at the side of my house. I took beautiful pictures.”

Coulehan has photographed the Andromeda galaxy, the Great Orion nebula, the Globular Cluster in Hercules, the open cluster in Taurus the Bull (also called the Seven Sisters or the Pleiades), Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, the Perseids, Halley’s Comet, and the moon. Solar eclipses have been Coulehan’s passion since his father took him to Canada, at age 15, to view his first. 

“I’ve been around the world with my wife, Dolores, chasing solar eclipses,” he said. “For our 10-year anniversary we watched an eclipse in Hawaii. For our 20th… in Libya, we saw one of the longest eclipses of the 20th century.” 

The Coulehans have also viewed eclipses in the South Pacific and Wyoming. He’s already planning their next eclipse trip — to Albuquerque in 2023. 

Coulehan photographed Comet Neowise, which passed by Earth in July 2020. Two of his most exciting coups were photographing Halley’s Comet in 1986 and Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. He’s still hoping to photograph another elusive phenomenon. 

“There hasn’t been a supernova in our galaxy in hundreds of years…,” he said. “You’re at the fate of the universe to see that. That’s just the way it goes. That’s why I go out and look at the stars… You never know what opportunity waits before you.”

Coulehan has been an amateur astronomer since age 12, when his father, a physicist, helped him build his first telescope. “You could still see the Milky Way in Dobbs Ferry,” he recalled. “In the early ‘60s he’d show me satellites that were brand new in his lifetime.” Outdoor lighting now makes it difficult to see such sights clearly.

Coulehan is a board member of the Suffern-based Rockland Astronomy Club, and for eight years has emceed the Annual Northeast Astronomy Forum & Space Exposition. Its attendees have included astronaut Eileen Collins. He is enthusiastic about encouraging young people’s interest in astronomy. 

“Last summer we saw Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon,” he said. “If you’ve looked through a telescope and seen the rings of Saturn for the first time, you can’t believe what you’re looking at; it takes your breath away. I’ve had the youngest, 6 or 7 years old, see it, and they’re duly impressed. It’s great to see that.”

To Coulehan’s mind, stargazing has another advantage in the age of Covid. “The nice thing about astronomy is you actually can do it with social distancing,” he said. “The distance to the stars is pretty far.”

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