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Guide to Seeing Stars in Charm City

Photo: Illustration By Deanna Staffo, License: N/A

Illustration By Deanna Staffo


Crosby Ramsey Memorial Observatory

Maryland Science Center

601 Light St., (410) 685-2370, mdsci.org

Open House: Friday evenings from 7-10 p.m.; call (410) 545-2999 after 5 p.m. to find out if the observatory is open that night.

Logistics: Parking is available on both Light Street and Key Highway for $2/hour, 24/7 (boo). Once parked, go in the Constellation Energy entrance on Key Highway. Volunteers will take you up the elevator to the roof. The 8-inch Clark telescope is a 119-inch-long red tube built in 1927 and originally housed on the roof of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The acoustics in the domed room are strange. Everyone sounds softly miked, and outside conversations echo in the dome’s curves. “Everybody thinks there’s mics everywhere, but it’s just science,” observatory manager Rick Stein says, moving among the growing crowd on a recent Friday. On the night I visited, I caught Saturn (though I arrived too early for it to be dark enough to see its moons) and Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in our night sky, plus a naked-eye flyby of the International Space Station.

Bonus points: The observatory is also open on Saturdays for sungazing (free with museum admission) from 1-4 p.m. Check out sun spots, flares, and other solar features through a set of filters. Call (410) 545-2999 after noon.

Maryland Space Grant Observatory

Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus

3701 San Martin Drive, (410) 516-7106, md.spacegrant.org

Open House: Friday evenings after sunset and the first Tuesday of every month; call (410) 516-6525 after 5 p.m.

Logistics: Park on University Parkway or turn left onto San Martin Drive and pull into the lot of the ROTC building on the left. The building is on the left across the street from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). Go up the main stairs and follow signs up the elevator and to the dome. Observatory operator Chris Martin will be there to let people in. This is a big ol’ scope—its main mirror is 20 inches across. Saturn looked spectacular; I also caught Arcturus and a star cluster.

Bonus points: Located right across from STScI, where the Hubble Space Telescope is run. STScI hosts public lectures at 8 p.m. on first Tuesdays before the observatory open house; for more information, visit http://hubblesite.org/about_us/public_talks.

University of Maryland Observatory

Metzerott Road between Adelphi Road and University Boulevard, (301) 405-6555, astro.umd.edu

Open House: The 5th and 20th of every month. Public information session and tour begins at 9 p.m. in the summer months (May through October).

Logistics: There is a small lot outside the observatory building. If it fills up, there is an overflow lot across the street at the University System of Maryland administration building, located at 3300 Metzerott Road. The building is in the woods, and tends to be mosquito-y in the summer, so bring bug spray and wear long sleeves and pants if bugs bug you.

Bonus points: The observatory hosts new telescope owners’ nights in January to teach you to use your new toy. The astronomy department also offers Learn the Sky nights, a non-credit class held over the summer for $10 a session. Classes are offered at the beginner and advanced levels.

UMBC Telescope

1000 Hilltop Circle, (410) 455-2513, jca.umbc.edu

Open House: First Thursday of every month. In the summer, it’s best to arrive around 9 p.m. Check the observatory’s Twitter account (@UMBCObservatory) for updates about weather. (The feed can be viewed through the observatory’s web site for those who hate Twitter.)

Logistics: From Hilltop Circle, turn right onto Commons Drive. Parking is free and easily available on Commons after 7 p.m. Enter the physics building through the door nearest the library, not the door closest to Commons. Take the elevator to the fourth floor, go into room 401, and go through the door to the right of the white board. You’ll climb two ladders up to the dome from there.

Bonus points: After the observing session, you can view images the telescope has taken of the objects seen that night, including planets, nebulae, and distant galaxies. Also, you can request in advance to see a specific object.

CCBC Dundalk Observatory

7200 Sollers Point Road, (443) 840-4216, ccbcmd.edu/catonsvilleplanetarium

Open House: None in the summer, unfortunately, but star parties start in the fall and take place Sept 14, Oct. 5 and 19, Nov. 2 and 16, and Dec. 7. Call (443) 840-4216 about 45 minutes before the session for weather status.

Logistics: Parking is available in the lot immediately to the right after entering campus. At 14 inches, CCBC’s Celestron is one of the bigger scopes around.

Bonus points: The observatory is on the ground, not on a roof, which is great news for the handicapped, height-averse, very young, and lazy.

Towson University Planetarium and Telescope

Smith Hall, 8000 York Road, (410) 704-3003, towson.edu/physics/astronomy

Open Houses: Third Friday of the month at 8 p.m.

Logistics: Free parking is available Fridays after 3 p.m. On Glen Drive, just off of York Road. Every month the 24-foot planetarium hosts a different free show, which usually lasts about an hour, followed by open viewing at the 16-inch telescope on the planetarium’s roof. “We have a computer projection system so we can show you not the just the stars and planets but we can fly around the universe,” says Alex Storrs, an associate professor in the astronomy department. “It’s all interactive. We don’t do canned shows, it’s all live.” Past shows have included “Saturn Spectacular,” “The Planets of Antiquity,” and “Space Invaders.” Future shows have yet to be finalized, but will be announced on the web site. Telescope viewing begins around 9 p.m.; all are welcome, whether they attended the planetarium show or not.

Bonus points: The planetarium, obviously. Combine the telescope’s ability to see bright planets and the moon and the planetarium’s view of far-off celestial objects, and this is your best bet for a complete view of the universe. (There’s also a good chance you’ll catch Star-Man Jer.)

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