Wish Upon a Star . . . Where You Can See One

Astronomer Sean O'Brien gives a lesson at Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County.
Astronomer Sean O'Brien gives a lesson at Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County. (By Eric Long -- Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum)
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By Jessica McFadden
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 18, 2008

Stargazing and summer go hand in hand. School's out, bedtimes are less rigid, and the night sky is bright with stars, planets and imagination.

But seeing those stars can be elusive for kids in the Washington area due in part to light pollution. As Faith King, 5, of Silver Spring says, "The last time I saw stars in my yard I could only see two or three; that's not very many. I wish I could see more, especially falling stars for wishing on."

Helping kids and adults see more stars is the goal of Sean O'Brien, 40, the staff astronomer of the National Air and Space Museum's Albert Einstein Planetarium. Along with a cadre of volunteers and their telescopes, O'Brien leads monthly star-watching events at Fauquier County's Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane.

"It's exciting to see someone view the rings of Saturn or the craters of the moon for the first time and have that light bulb moment. Far from the city lights, we are able to point out satellites, planets, star clusters and galaxies. Visitors can see for themselves how Galileo was convinced that the planets go around the sun," O'Brien says.

Summertime highlights in the Northern Hemisphere's night sky include Jupiter and its moons, the phases of Venus and the Andromeda Galaxy. Here are some illuminating events to assist budding astronomers of all ages.

Starrytelling Festival

Astronomers, storytellers, artists, dancers and even Galileo himself will be on hand this weekend for Kensington's Starrytelling Festival. Climb into the inflatable planetarium, listen to skylore from cultures all over the world and participate in hands-on astronomy activities. Attendees will be able to view sunspots by day and the stars by night on powerful telescopes, guided by astronomers and astrophysicists from across the country.

Where: Kensington Town Hall, 3710 Mitchell St. For more information, call 301-404-2678 or visit http://www.starrytelling.com.

When: Today, 7 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 2 to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free. Some projects might have a $1 materials fee.

Museum Sky Watching

Monthly stargazing evenings begin with a short night-sky orientation at dusk. Visitors are welcome to try out the telescopes provided by volunteers. In case of clouds or rain, there will be a short alternative program.

Where: Sky Meadows State Park, 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane. 540-592-3556 (park) or 202-633-1000 (Smithsonian). http://www.nasm.si.edu/events/skywatching.

When: July 26, Aug. 23, Sept. 27, Oct. 25 and Nov. 22, from dusk to 11 p.m.


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