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Maryland Science Center

Maryland Science Center observatory hosts Galileo Nights to view Jupiter

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Four hundred years ago this month, Galileo Galilei turned a telescope skyward. What he saw -- stars around Jupiter -- would revolutionize astronomy. The stars, which after further examination he identified as orbiting moons, proved that not everything in the sky revolved around Earth.

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For this special anniversary the Maryland Science Center's Crosby Ramsey Memorial Observatory is hosting free Galileo Nights, complete with telescope-making and Jupiter gazing on Fridays in January. The last two Fridays in January will also include viewings of the moon. (In addition to identifying the moons of Jupiter, Galileo is known for taking a closer look at the craters on our moon. Since it was theorized that everything in the sky was perfect and unchanging, this was also considered a controversial revelation.)

Be sure to begin your evening by building a plastic telescope from kits set up in a meeting room near the observatory. There are a limited number of telescopes, so you'll want to get there early to make sure you get one. The telescopes, which are similar in magnification and design to what Galileo used 400 years ago, take less than 45 minutes to assemble. On a recent Friday night kids as young as 7 were putting telescopes together with help from their parents.

Outside on the observatory roof deck, there are three telescopes of different magnifications trained on Jupiter, including one that is close to the power available to Galileo. No surprise, it takes a steady hand and a little patience to use.

"You definitely have to line up your eye just right," said Jim O'Leary, who oversees the observatory. "You sort of have to weave and wobble to get it just right."

Far easier to see through is the observatory's Clark Telescope. It is one of the most powerful public telescopes in the state, and last Friday night more than 65 people viewed Jupiter through it. Since you can come and go as you please during the 2 1/2 -hour viewing, the wait is rarely more than five minutes. Four of the gassy planet's moons were easy to identify -- if you knew what you were looking at.

"I thought that I saw two moons and two stars, but really I saw four moons," 9-year-old Adrian Gibbons said. Adrian and his mother, Jeanne, traveled all the way from Mount Savage, Md., (about 150 miles) to catch a glimpse of the solar system's largest planet.

Although the telescope is powerful, it can't see through clouds, so viewings are weather permitting. Call ahead to confirm. Also, gazers should remember to bundle up. The observatory deck, which offers lovely views of the Baltimore skyline, is outdoors.

-- Amy Orndorff

WHEN IS IT? Today, Jan. 22 and 29 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

WHERE IS IT? 601 Light St., Baltimore.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? It's free!

WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION? Call 410-545-2999 or visit http://www.marylandsciencecenter.org.

WHAT IF I HAVE MORE THAN THREE HOURS? Every Friday from October through March the center offers $8 admission after 5 p.m. The cost allows visitors into an Imax show, exhibit halls and the planetarium as well as the observatory.


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