Saturday nights at the obsErvatory
Free stargazing for the public is offered at the Star*Quest Observatory every clear Saturday night from April to November starting one hour after sunset and continuing for two hours. On these clear Saturday viewing nights, trained volunteers work the observatory telescopes and are available to answer your questions. You may also bring your own telescope to the site and receive help to use it more effectively.
To determine when the sun will set and whether it will be clear, check out the clear sky chart.
16" Richard Johnston Telescope
Our main telescope is an advanced-optics telescope that uses a 16" diameter mirror to collect 6,000 times more light than the naked eye, allowing us to see very faint objects. Depending on the time of year, a stargazer can see very faint nebulae, galaxies, double stars, star clusters and details on the moon and planets.
For public showings we generally use magnifications between 60x and 200x to keep images sharp and interesting. The Johnston telescope is automatically driven by a motor to compensate for Earth's rotation which keeps celestial objects centered in the eyepiece.
The Star*Quest Observatory also features the original Newtonian telescope built by the Society. The English fork mount telescope was built by founding members Maurice Crow, and the excellent 12-1/2 inch mirror ground and polished by Glenn Harnishfeger. Glenn also built the observatory dome. (pictured above)
What you'll see at the observatory
On the Moon we can easily see the mountain ranges, hundreds of craters (ringed mountains), and the seas (plains). The best time to view the Moon is at First Quarter (half Moon), when we can see the long shadows cast by the sun shining on the mountains and craters.
All the planets can be seen through the observatory telescope, but two are rarely viewed. Elusive Mercury is too close to the sun and distant Pluto is too faint. Venus shows a bright white face; Mars shows dark markings at closest approach; Jupiter shows dark cloud belts and four bright moons; Saturn displays its beautiful ring system and several small moons; Uranus and Neptune are seen as small blue-green disks.
Double stars, sometimes showing a beautiful color contrast, can be viewed at any time of the year. Some are physically close together in space orbiting about each other, and others appear close only because of our line-of-sight.
Various nebulae, bright clouds of glowing gases, can be viewed during the summer and winter seasons. Some are birthplaces of stars, while others are remnants of old dying stars.
Galaxies beyond our Milky Way can also be viewed. The Great Galaxy in Andromeda is the closest galaxy to our Milky Way. It is visible during the fall, and can be glimpsed on a clear moonless night with the naked eye. The light we see from these remote galaxies has been traveling through space for millions of years.