/ The DC Traveler
Washington DC — By Jon Rochetti on May 25, 2010 at 8:21 am
Filed under: astronomy, Events, Family Friendly, featuredarticle

Stargazing at the Heavens

Look up in the night sky and enjoy an evening of stargazing at the University of Maryland’s Observatory near Washington DC twice a month during the summer.

Spitzer Telescope image University astronomers and special guests present an informative half-hour presentation (changing topics) at the University of Maryland Observatory Open House Nights followed by an observatory tour that includes their 4 telescopes.

The observatory’s telescope collection includes a 7-inch manual telescope, an 8-inch 1960s-era NASA reflector telescope, and powerful 14” and 20″ reflector telescopes that can magnify images from space over 600 times.

After the presentation, weather and cloud cover permitting, the public can view celestial objects through the observatory’s telescopes.

You might even get a chance to see the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle on one of its final missions or the Hubble telescope fly by.

The UM Astronomy Observatory was opened in 1963, but sadly, the growing lights of the Washington DC area has caused the center to be virtually useless for professional astronomical research.  But it’s still used by the university’s astronomy students.

Iapetus off of SaturnThe first compound telescope (using two lenses) was initially developed for commercial use in 1608 by two Dutch eye glass makers and an  instrument-maker.   The original Dutch perspective glass magnified objects by only 3 times (3x), much less than many pairs of modern day binoculars.

Today, the largest optical telescope is the 39 ft (11.8M) Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) mounted on Mount Graham in Arizona.  The telescope is so powerful that, when used in conjunction with another powerful telescope, the two were able to discover a new galaxy cluster roughly 7.7 billion light years away or 4.5 quadrillion miles (15 zeros) from earth.

And if the astronomy bug bites you, there are close to 20 Astronomy clubs in the Washington DC area that can help you learn about the night sky, determining the best type of telescope to purchase or the best places in the area to stargaze.

University of Maryland Observatory– Lecture Hall – Metzerott Road, College Park, Maryland.  The Observatory is located across the street from the UM System Admin. building at 3300 Metzerott Road  (map)

Dates & Times - 9:00 p.m. Doors open at 8:45 p.m.  Arrive early for best seating.

  • Saturday, June 5, 2010 – Black Holes
  • Sunday, June 20 – The Invisible Universe
  • Monday, July 5 – Mercury as Messenger
  • Tuesday, July 20 – Measuring the Spin of Super-massive Black Holes
  • Thursday, August 5 – Postcards from the Galactic Center
  • Friday, August 20 – Observing in Puerto Rico

Call the Observatory for up to the minute cloud coverage information the day of the open house at 301-405-6555.

Tickets – Free

Nearest Metro Subway Station - Greenbelt, Green line, then a 10-minute cab ride.

Parking – Free parking is available it in the Observatory’s lot and across the street in the System Admin building lot.

Images – NASAExoplanet, Saturn moon

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