- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

The beginning stargazer doesn't need to own a telescope. Opportunities abound for the beginner to view the universe without a scope or money through telescopes provided by a number of local clubs, universities and other regional groups. Here are some of the most popular offerings.

• Johns Hopkins University: 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore.

The university's Bloomberg telescope is open to the public every Friday evening, weather permitting. For more information see the Web site of the Space Telescope Science Institute at hubblesite.org/about_us/open-night.shtml or call the observatory at 410/516-6275.

• Maryland Science Center: 601 Light St., Baltimore.

The Crosby Ramsey Memorial Observatory on the roof of the science center has an 8-inch, computer-driven Alvan Clark refractor. Free public observations 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays, weather permitting. See www.mdsci.org/exhibits/observatory/index.cfm for full details. Call 410/545-2999 after 5 p.m. on Thursdays to find out if the observatory will be open that night.

• U.S. Naval Observatory: Massachusetts Avenue at 34th Street NW, with entrance at the end of Observatory Circle, which intersects Massachusetts Avenue south of 34th Street.

Public tours 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on alternate Mondays include, weather permitting, astronomer-guided viewing of celestial objects through the 12-inch Alvan Clark refractor telescope.

Reserve by fax to 202/762-1489 or register online four to six weeks before tour date. Tours full through April. Limited space at later dates. For complete reservation and security-screening details see www.usno.navy.mil/tour_info.shtml.

The USNO Web site also offers instruction on how to build an 8-inch Dobsonian telescope at home for about $300. See www.usno.navy.mil/8inchdob.shtml.

• University of Maryland Observatory: Metzerott Road between Adelphi Road and University Boulevard, College Park.

Hidden in the woods behind the school's golf course and the U.S. National Archives II storage complex, the observatory holds open house every fifth and 20th day of the month, weather permitting. It's perfect for beginners children and families, school and seniors' groups, ordinary folk who want to see the stars and planets through its large telescope.

Sessions begin at 8 p.m., with a 35-minute discussion by local astronomers followed by observations through the university's telescope. See www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse or call Elizabeth Warner in the Department of Astronomy. 301/405-6555.

Periodically, the observatory organizes free workshops to help beginners learn how to use their new telescopes effectively. Sessions include informal lecturing on telescope processes and hands-on individual training.

The observatory's regional astronomy calendar at www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse/calendar/calendar.html is the single best resource for tracking organized star-watching opportunities in the area. It lists every regional amateur and professional astronomy affinity group and service provider, including information on membership, star-viewing events, and classes and lecturers almost all of which come at little or no cost.

Not all groups listed there accept phone calls or direct e-mail. Beginners should examine the groups' Web sites and attend a star party or other public event to meet members and officers of the groups.

Among those groups are these mentioned in this article:

• The Analemma Society: See www.analemma.org. Call Charles H. Olin, president, at 703/759-6616 or e-mail him at [email protected]

• Baltimore Astronomical Society: See www.baltastro.org or call 410/685-2370.

• Greenbelt Astronomy Club: See www.greenbeltastro.org or call Bill McHale, president, at 301/593-9530.

• National Capital Astronomers Club: See www.capitalastronomers.org or call Jay Miller, president, at 301/930-7942. NCA telescope-making and mirror-grinding classes meet 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays in the basement woodshop of the Chevy Chase Community Center, McKinley Street and Connecticut Avenue NW in the District. Contact NCA instructor Guy Brandenberg at 202/262-4274 or [email protected]

• Northern Virginia Astronomy Club: See www.novac.com or e-mail Ed Karch, president, at [email protected]

The starstruck with more questions may also wish to visit the Web site noted below:

• The Astronomy Cafe: Sten Odenwald, manager of NASA Education and Public Outreach for the IMAGE satellite project, has since 1995 answered 75,000 e-mail questions about astronomy on this site. He responds to all queries, practical and theoretical; most questions are addressed through 4,800 set FAQ answers. See www.theastronomycafe.net.

Raymond M. Lane

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