In the night skies over the Vineyard, one can see the moon and planets move through the Milky Way. On one night, a man turns his telescope and scans beyond the Milky Way to a sister galaxy. He is Andrew A. Heyward, an avid amateur astronomer, but he is also a well-respected children’s cartoon writer, editor and top executive for an animation company in Hollywood.
Mr. Heyward, who prefers to be called Andy, said he cherishes those quiet summer nights when he can turn his large telescope and look at things that are far from this Earth. He is a man who loves a journey and enjoys sharing it with others. Many of his favorite places require a good dose of imagination.
On clear nights Mr. Heyward puts on an orange NASA jumpsuit and goes stargazing. He carries a faint red flashlight, which helps to preserve his best night vision. The telescope motors spin, turning the scope to an area of the northeastern sky where a faint galaxy can barely be seen by the naked eye. It is the Andromeda galaxy. In his Celestron 16 inch telescope, the galaxy glows. It is made up of billions of stars shining together as a fuzzy, elliptical plate with a brighter central core. The galaxy, Mr. Heyward said, is 2.5 million light years away. It is a sister spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way.
Getting the scope to point at the galaxy or anywhere else in the sky requires quiet time, as the motors and computer program do their magic. “It requires a lot of patience,” Mr. Heyward said, as he waits silently. Once pointed to the right part of the sky, Mr. Heyward pushes buttons on a remote control device to center the galaxy for viewing.
On this night he also points the telescope to the remnants of a star that blew up as much as 8,000 years ago. It is called the Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra. Through the scope, Mr. Heyward sees the ghost of a doughnut, the expanding remnants of a star that went through a cataclysmic end. The planetary nebula is 2,000 light years away, a resident of our galaxy and not so far away as the Andromeda Galaxy.
Mr. Heyward was first introduced to the Vineyard by the late Walter Cronkite. “I met Walter in 2001, when we approached him to play the voice of Benjamin Franklin in our Liberty’s Kids animated television series. During that period of production and distribution, we became good friends,” Mr. Heyward said.
“He invited my wife Amy and myself to come spend time with him on the Vineyard in 2006,” he said. The couple visited again for two summers, building not only a wonderful relationship with the celebrated journalist, but, as a couple, falling in love with the Island.
The Heywards bought the land for their future home in 2008. The property overlooks and has a shore side connection to Katama Bay. They started building their home that summer. It is only in the last year that all the many parts of the observatory, also on that property, have come together. The observatory has a clamshell cover that protects the sensitive telescope from the weather. On nights of observing, with the pushing of a few buttons, a door overhead opens to allow a clear unencumbered view of the bright stars.
Mr. Heyward will point his telescope at all of the planets that are visible in the night sky and see not only the rings of Saturn but Mars’s white polar region and Jupiter’s bright red spot and circulating clouds.
An observatory was among Mr. Heyward’s earliest ideas for building a summer home. “We have a home in Los Angeles, where all kinds of science is going on,” he said. Mr. Heyward and his wife are big supporters of the work being done at the UCLA Galactic Center. “In L.A., you can go up to Griffith Park to look at the stars and you are surrounded by the light from the city. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t remark to Amy about the clarity of the air and the sky [on the Vineyard]. When you are in the Los Angeles with light pollution and noise pollution, you don’t have the peace and serenity that you get from looking up at the Vineyard sky.”
It is that sky that is one of the Vineyard’s greatest assets. Mr. Heyward’s observatory is one of the largest privately- owned observatories in Southeastern Massachusetts. Nantucket has two large observatories, both part of the Maria Mitchell Association, an organization dedicated to one of the nation’s earliest female scientists and the nation’s first woman astronomer.
The Vineyard’s other obvious asset, the water, enabled Mr. Hayward to become a sailor, a direct result of his friendship with Mr. Cronkite. Mr. Heyward owns the late broadcaster’s 64-foot Hinckley ketch, Wyntje, which he has renamed Gadget. The new name for the vessel is linked to one of Mr. Heyward’s most successful television animation programs; Inspector Gadget. The sailboat is moored not too far away from where Mr. Cronkite lived and kept the boat in Katama Bay.
Mr. Heyward said he and his wife were deeply affected by his friendship with Mr. Cronkite and particularly the legendary anchorman’s historic, emotionally-charged account of the first moon landing in 1969. Like the rest of the nation, Mr. Heyward said he remains mesmerized by both the significance of the event and the voice of the journalist reporting the news.
On one recent night, Mr. Heyward invited his house guests outside to the observatory for more than just a look through the telescope. Mr. Heyward gave a performance, talking about the discoveries of astronomers and their contribution to modern science. Dressed in the same NASA overalls, he, along with his wife, gave everyone a Milky Way candy bar and a lollipop in the shape of the face of an extraterrestrial. Mr. Heyward talked about the enormity of the universe, its age and humans’ link to it.
He turned on a large, flat-screen television on the inside wall of the observatory and played a video of Mr. Cronkite addressing television viewers about Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. A celebrated astronaut, Mr. Armstrong died this week.
A year ago July, Mr. Heyward said he and his wife made a visit to Cape Canaveral to watch the last space shuttle, Atlantis, take off. For the country, it marked the end of a 30-year mission.For the couple, it was a treasured moment. “It was very moving to watch,” he said. As for his television career, he subscribes to the philosophy that science can be fun and should be geared particularly for the young. For now, he said he is working on a new animated program that shines a light on the great American inventor Thomas Edison.
Later, he took his guests outside the observatory to discover another one of his friends, an extraterrestrial being-in-residence in the backyard. The green character, a mannequin, was seated in a beach chair, also looking up and enjoying the night sky. “This is Al the alien,” Mr. Heyward said.