The Best of the 3-Hour Weekend: University of Maryland Observatory Open House

See other celestial bodies during open houses at the University of Maryland's observatory.
See other celestial bodies during open houses at the University of Maryland's observatory. (Above, 2006 Photo By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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Friday, September 4, 2009

Expect lots of oohs and aahs from stargazers of all ages as they take a look through three of the University of Maryland's telescopes. The College Park observatory hosts free open houses twice a month during which visitors can listen to a half-hour lecture and then peer through telescopes that the staff has trained on extraterrestrial objects.

About 40 people usually turn out for the open houses, organizers say, including a mix of college students, families and amateur astronomers. The graduate students and professors who lecture understand that not everyone has taken Astronomy 101, so they tailor the talk to a general audience.

College Park's proximity to Washington does mean there is a fair amount of light pollution, and clouds also can be an annoyance, but there are a surprising number of objects worth viewing. The moon and other orbs appear so unbelievably beautiful up close they might just have you asking if they're real.

If you go: The open houses are free and begin at 9 p.m. on the 5th and 20th of each month from May through October. (November through April, they start at 8 p.m.) That means the next open house is Saturday night. Lectures go on regardless of the weather; viewings are a different matter. If the weather cooperates, visitors can look through telescopes for 30 to 45 minutes after the lecture.

Where is it? The observatory is on Metzerott Road between Adelphi Road and University Boulevard in College Park, almost directly across the street from the university's system administration building (3300 Metzerott Rd.). There is free but limited parking at the observatory and across the street at the system administration building.

What's it cost? Free.

For more information: 301-405-6555 or

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