“Astronomical Fridays” show off the stars

By John Vitale in News

March 8, 2012

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Look up in the sky on any clear night and scattered throughout the darkness are countless stars.

For many people, these tiny balls of glitter dangling in the night’s sky are awe-inspiring; for others, these tiny speckles of light are not worth a second glance; and for others, stars are simply for wishing upon in a hopeful attempt to make a dream come true.

At light-years away from Earth, stars’ aesthetic appeal lie within the eyes of their viewers, but there is no denying that getting a better view of stars and other objects in the universe would only make them more beautiful.

“Astronomical Fridays “ are  celestial observation sessions held one Friday each month, by Dr. James Wheeler, associate professor of physics at LHU, using the university’s 12-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

The next viewing session is scheduled for March 16 at 8 p.m., and with the winter sky coming to an end, Wheeler assures that there will be plenty of “interesting” objects waiting to be observed.

“We’ll have lots of stuff in a big cluster in Cancer and lots of galaxies in Leo,” Wheeler said. “We’ll also have lots in Virgo and some very good stuff in the big dipper—a galaxy and a planetary nebula.”

Orion, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and the Crab Nebula are just a few of the other celestial objects Wheeler said spectators should look forward to seeing in the session on March 16.

Many of the objects Wheeler mentioned are viewable with small telescopes and binoculars—some of them can even be faintly spotted with the naked eye—but the university’s 12-inch telescope is fairly large, according to Wheeler, and make objects appear much clearer than the average amateur telescope.

“I have a $200 telescope and the difference between mine and the school’s is unbelievable,” Cree Flory, a junior computer science major and former member of the physics club, said.

“Our telescope gathers far more light so you can see far dimmer things,” Wheeler said. “And it has better angular resolution so you can see more detail.”

“When I was a little girl I wanted to be an astronomer,” Flory, said. She added that her experience at a previous Astronomical Friday viewing was “awesome.”

“The coolest thing I got to see was Saturn,” Flory said.

She also saw some star clusters which she said were “phenomenal.”

“Clusters are very, very old stars in very, very dense clusters, thousands upon thousands of stars in a very small space, Wheeler said.

“I love Dr. Wheeler. Any questions I’ve had he can explain the answers for hours” Flory said. “He’s so intelligent.”

Wheeler said he has been into Astronomy since his childhood and that he did his dissertation on matter inside of a neutron star. He has been holding Astronomical Fridays at LHU since 1997.

“I’d love to see people come out,” Wheeler said. “I’d rather show people real stars than the planetarium.”

“You don’t realize what’s up there.” Flory said. It’s awesome. I absolutely plan on going again in the future.”

Aside from the March 16 viewing, the final viewing of the semester will start at 9 p.m. on April 20.

The sessions take place on the Farrandsville Road Playing Fields about 1.1 miles above the Jay Street Bridge on the Northeast side of the river, adjacent to the West Branch Soccer Fields.

“The weather is going to get nicer,” Wheeler said. “I’d like to see people come out in bunches.”

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