Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Summer 2018 event schedule is available

Finally! Summer 2018 dates are here!

Friday 13 July 2018 : 9 - 10 PM
Friday 20 July 2018 : 9 - 10 PM

Friday 3 August 2018 : 9 - 10 PM
Friday 17 August 2018 : 9 - 10 PM

Because of occupancy limitations on the roof, we require guests to make reservations via Eventbrite.

Summer 2018 reservations can be made here:

If I'm able to add dates, I will.

Events will be cancelled for bad weather. I will make the call as soon as I am able, usually about 2 hours prior to the event start time. An announcement will be sent to the email address you registered with Eventbrite and I will post the status on this website.

About the Guest Nights:

During Observatory Guest Nights we use Montgomery College telescopes to view and learn about visible solar system objects, star clusters, and nebulae. We also spend some time looking at the sky with just our eyes in order to locate constellations and planets that can be seen this time of the year.

You'll leave with a star chart and the ability to find celestial objects on your own.
Astronomy faculty and students from the MC Stargazers Club will be on hand to answer questions about the universe.

Some things to note:

  • Dress for the weather. The observatory is located outside on the roof of the Science Center.
  • We meet in Science Center room 406 (SC406). We go up to the roof as a group. If you're late, there will be a student in SC406 to escort you upstairs.
  • Children are welcome (and encouraged!) to attend, although campus policy prohibits children younger than five years of age on the roof.
  • Parking is free.

I want to continue to improve the observatory nights. If you have suggestions or comments, please let me know.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

MC Observatory open for solar viewing this Sunday at Rockville Science Day

Hello Hello!

This Sunday 22 April 2018 is Rockville Science Day! The Montgomery College Rockville campus will be transformed into a dazzling array of science demonstrations and activities for all ages.

I'll be at the observatory with telescopes for safe solar observing with white light and hydrogen-alpha filters. The weather forecast is for clear skies, but if turns out to be cloudy, I'll have an indoor activity set up in Science Center room SC406. No reservations are necessary. I hope you can join me.

Rockville Science Day
Sunday 22 April 2018
Observatory open from noon to 4 PM

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Observing log for Friday 13 April 2018

We had a Moonless and mostly clear evening for our observatory night. It was a bit breezy, but the warm air felt wonderful. Spring has finally arrived!

Here's what we looked at:

  • The planet Venus: Venus was too low for the the 14-inch scopes inside the observatory so we looked at our sister planet with the 8-inch scope on the deck.
  • M42 (Orion Nebula) : At 1300 light-years distant, the Orion Nebula is one of the closest regions of star formation to us. Because the constellations set a little bit earlier each evening, Orion and the Orion Nebula won't be visible in the night sky too much longer.
  • M35 (open cluster) : We were also able to see M35 in the constellation Gemini. Like Orion, Gemini is not visible in the night sky during the summer months, so I'm glad we were able to catch this object as well. M35 is an example of an open star cluster and is about 2800 light-years from Earth.
  • M3 (globular cluster) : We also looked at the globular cluster M3. This cluster can be found in the constellation Canes Venatici (the hunting dogs), and is about 33,900 light-years from Earth. The cluster showed up as a faint fuzzy ball in the eyepiece.
  • Mizar (double star) : The star Mizar is the the second star in the handle of the Big Dipper. With the naked eye you can see Alcor, a fainter star very close to Mizar. (Although with a layer of haze last night, catching Alcor was a bit of a challenge!) Mizar itself is a quadruple star system, but not one you can split without a telescope. With the 14-inch, we were able to resolve Mizar A and Mizar B- both of which have companions, but not even our scopes are big enough to see these.

Sincere thanks to Shahriar for his assistance with the event, including setting up and operating the 8-inch scope on the deck.

And of course, Thank you everyone for attending. I especially loved the seeing enthusiasm of the kids! It's such an honor to get to share the universe with you. I hope to see folks again at another event.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thank you for a stellar Fall 2017 semester!

Thanks to everyone for visiting the observatory this semester (or trying to- I know the weather wasn't always cooperative!). It's a privilege and a joy for me to get to share the observatory and my love of astronomy with you.

We're shutting down for the winter break, but new events will be scheduled once the Spring 2018 semester begins. I will post the dates here.

For now, here is a link to the November/December starmap.

And here is a link to my handout on finding direction using Ursa Major (Big Dipper) or Cassiopeia.

Again, thank you for your interest in our observatory. I hope to see you next semester.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Observing Log for 20 October 2017

We had a beautifully clear and Moonless evening for the observatory night.

I truly appreciate everyone's patience with us as we dealt with the troublesome 8-inch scope on the deck. (BIG thanks to observatory assistants Richard and Shahriar for working so hard last night!)

With the two 14-inch scopes, we able to see the following objects:

  • M57 (The Ring Nebula): M57 is a planetary nebula about 2,300 light-years from Earth. Planetary nebulae are the result of what happens when lower-mass stars (like our Sun) run out of nuclear fuel at the end of their lives. There are about 3,000 planetary nebulae known to exist in the Milky Way Galaxy.

    The Ring Nebula looked like a tiny smoke ring in the eyepiece, but it's actually about 3 light-years across.

  • M31 (Andromeda Galaxy): M31 is a neighboring galaxy located about 2.5 million light-years from us. It's a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way, but it's larger. M31 is about 220,000 light-years across compared to the Milky Way's 100,000 light-year diameter.

    Through the telescope M31 looked like a small fuzzy ball with a star-like center. The bright center is the core of M31 and the fuzziness is the light from the hundreds of billions of stars that make up the galaxy.

  • Albireo: Albireo is a double star system in Cygnus. The two stars (one blue, one gold) can't be resolved with the naked eye, but through our telescopes we are able to see the pair. The system is about 430 light-years distant.
  • NCG 6826 (The "blinking planetary" in Cygnus): NGC 6826 is another example of a planetary nebula, and is about 2,000 light-years away from Earth. It's called the "blinking planetary" because it appears to flicker on and off as you alternate looking to the side of it and looking directly at it. The effect works because we have more sensitive peripheral vision.

Thank you everyone for attending, and for your interest in the Montgomery College Observatory!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Event Schedule for Fall 2017

Fall 2017 dates for Observatory Guest Nights are below.

Here's hoping for clear skies!

Friday 1 September 2017 : 8 - 9 PM
Friday 15 September 2017 : 8 - 9 PM

Friday 6 October 2017 : 8 - 9 PM
Friday 20 October 2017 : 8 - 9 PM

Friday 3 November 2017 : 8 - 9 PM
Friday 17 November 2017 : 8 - 9 PM

Because of occupancy limitations on the roof, we require guests to make reservations via Eventbrite (

Please note:

Events will be cancelled for bad weather. I will make the call as soon as I am able, usually about 2 hours prior to the event start time. An announcement will be sent to the email address you registered with Eventbrite, and I will post the status on this website.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Solar eclipse events

Happy August everyone! Below please find information on the solar eclipse event at Montgomery College. I've also included a list of August events at the nearby Latitude Observatory in Gaithersburg, MD.

Montgomery College will be hosting an eclipse event event at our Takoma Park campus on Monday 21 August 2017 from 12:30 to 3:00 PM.

During the eclipse, we will connect to sites that are in totality and project the event on to the planetarium dome for viewing. Dr. Harold Williams will also present a planetarium show explaining eclipses and occultations. If it is clear we will have telescopes set up outside to view the partial phases of the eclipse safely.

The event is free and open to the public. Additional details can be found on the Montgomery College Planetarium webpage. I hope you can join us!

The Latitude Observatory in Gaithersburg is hosting the following events in August:

  • Saturday 12 August 2017Perseids Meteor Shower (8:00 PM to 1:00 AM) Bring blankets and chairs to sit or lie out on the lawn watching for meteors.
  • Sunday 20 August 2017Preview Screening of "The Farthest: Voyager in Space", from HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, is a beautiful new PBS documentary highlighting the story of the Voyager missions. Movie is from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. Tickets will be distributed starting at 2:00 PM. Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg, Md.
  • 21 Monday August 2017Solar Eclipse Party (12:30 to 4:30 PM) An afternoon of solar related activities and solar observations as well as safe solar viewers for participants.