College of Engineering

Observatory Open House

On Saturday, February 2, the Physics Department held its most successful Observatory Open House since the mid-1990s. We counted 250 community visitors at our observing event, including a large number of parents with children. Again the department is grateful to our community outreach partner, the Astronomical Society of Southern New England (ASSNE), whose members operated our 16-inch telescope in the Observatory plus eight of their own telescopes on the grounds outside the observatory. With ASSNE's effort, Observatory Director Prof. Alan Hirshfeld was free to interact with many community residents and tell them about the Observatory and the University and also answer their many questions about astronomy.

Saturday night's sky was very clear and visitors were treated to celestial sights like the planet Mars (which ASSNE observers described as the best view they had ever seen of the planet), Saturn, the Orion nebula, the Andromeda galaxy, plus several star clusters. Despite the cold, the crowd was enthusiastic, both about astronomy in general and about the Physics Department's show of community spirit in offering them a unique, on-campus educational experience. Thanks go as well to physics major Carter Chamberlain, who operated one of our department's portable telescopes for several hours beside the long waiting line for the Observatory.

The Open House received heavy advance publicity in the media; most of the visitors heard about the event in the newspaper or through public service announcements. There were 22 inquiries to Prof. Hirshfeld's office phone on the previous Friday and Saturday alone. With Saturday night's signups, the Observatory's email distribution list doubled. Open house donations hit an all-time high. Clearly, the Observatory continues to publicize the Physics Department and cast the University in a very positive light. Our next Observatory Open House is scheduled for Saturday, March 1. For further information, contact Prof. Hirshfeld at 508-999-8715 or

Author: "Dr. Alan Hirshfeld"
Date: 5-2-2008

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