The moon and the stars are yours

Image caption: The 20-inch-diameter Morris W. Offit Telescope


Some Friday evening when the night sky is clear, you might want to consider climbing to the top of the university's Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy. Up on that roof, you can get an impressive view of the moon and the stars, through one of the largest optical telescopes in the region.

Every Friday, weather permitting, the Maryland Space Grant Observatory Center invites visitors to an open house to peer through this 20-inch-diameter telescope to get a magnified look at the night sky's features. Normally this type of advanced equipment would be in the hands of astronomers, but here it's open to the public for education and outreach. And it's free.

Most consistently you'll be able to see the moon, scanning the craters and ridges of its surface. During certain seasons, you can peek at different planets and constellations. In mid-winter, for example, you might see Jupiter. In early autumn, Saturn.

The Morris W. Offit Telescope is housed inside a large dome on the roof of the Bloomberg Center, located on the Homewood campus. The Johns Hopkins facility was built with funds from the Maryland Space Grant Consortium, established in 1989 as part of NASA's Space Grant program. An anonymous donation of $250,000 helped purchase the telescope itself.

For the open houses, an observatory fellow walks visitors through using the equipment. Erini Lambrides, an astrophysics PhD student at Hopkins, has held this duty for the past year. She parks herself in the open-air observatory dome from dusk onward each Friday—chilly weather included—to greet and guide visitors. They're everyone from Scout troops and amateur stargazers to bona fide scientists. On a recent Friday, Lambrides welcomed a group of 200 on a parent-daughter night.

"The Offit Observatory is a perfect tool to help empower the public to develop an interest in science," Lambrides says. "All they have to do is put their eye to the lens, and the universe will be open to them."

If you're planning a Friday-night visit, first call the observatory's hotline at 410-516-6525 at 5 p.m. to check if the weather is clear. (A cloudy or stormy night will cancel the open house.)

And for those interested in going more in-depth with the telescope, the observatory offers free training with the equipment for any Johns Hopkins affiliate. After an hourlong session to learn the ropes, you can be qualified to reserve the dome and telescope for your own research or recreation when the space is free.

For more information and detailed directions to the telescope, visit the observatory's website.