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Observatory preparing for meteor shower

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

During the annual Geminid meteor shower, astronomers say as many as two meteors per minute might be visible during the peak period on the Dec. 13-14. The Oakley Observatory on the campus of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, which has eight telescopes, is one of several locations in the Wabash Valley to view constellations and other celestial objects in the night sky. Ivy Jackson Photo.
Young eyes turn upwards to the night sky on Dec. 24 in an attempt to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus as he makes his worldwide voyage to bring holiday cheer. But there are many other wonders for stargazers to enjoy, and one that is especially unique for December.

"You don't need to know anything about Astronomy to start looking at the sky," Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology Physics Professor Richard Ditteon said. "There are all kinds of incredible stuff up there for people to see and enjoy any time of the year."

From Dec. 6-20, Ditteon said the eastern night sky would become an incredible light show as Earth makes its annual passage through the debris field of an ancient comment. The best time to view the Geminid meteor shower is after midnight, but young stargazers will be able to catch a glimpse of the 60-70 meteors per hour that could be seen in a dark sky between 9 p.m. and midnight.

"Dec. 13-14 will be the peak period to view the meteor shower," he said, offering some viewing tips. "People will need to get away from light pollution, like a city sky, to a dark sky. They will need to let their eyes become "dark" adapted so they can see the stars. Don't stare at anything in particular, just kind of relax your eyes, zone out, and enjoy."

The planet Mars will also be visible in the December night sky, but might require a little more than a pair of binoculars, a warm coat and a blanket and a lawn chair to enjoy.

Ditteon, the director of the Oakley Observatory at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, recommends people use a telescope to see the red planet.

"The public is invited to come out on Thursday evenings, if the sky is clear, and join the Astronomy Club at 8 p.m.," he said, explaining the observatory is located in the woods on the northeast side of campus. "If coming from the east on United States 40, people will need to turn north at the stoplight next to Lost Creek Elementary, go one-tenth of a mile and then follow the signs to the observatory."

Ditteon said arrangements could be made if classes or other interested groups want to view the stars at the observatory.

"Astronomy can be a nice affordable hobby for families to enjoy. All you need to start, at the most, is a pair of binoculars," he said, adding that the quiet solitude of looking into the face of the universe can be the perfect activity for anyone to enjoy. "For a lot of people there is a sense of wonder while looking up at the sky. It is such a big universe, and when people start to think about their place in it, it can be a very humbling experience."

The Hook Observatory, located on the roof of the Science Building near the intersection of Sixth and Chestnut streets on the Indiana State University campus, is also open to the public, weather permitting, from sundown to 10 p.m. Officials say the front door is left open for guests, who will need to take the stairs to the roof to the observatory.

If the weather is unfavorable, a visit to the Allen Memorial Planetarium could be the right choice for your family.

"We will be having our Holiday Laser Light show this weekend, but that is just for fun," Planetarium Director/Teacher Holly Hudson said. "On Dec. 14-16, we start our educational seasonal star program, which will feature the Geminid meteor shower, constellations and other celestial events that will appear in the December sky."

Since the planetarium doesn't have to rely on a telescope and good weather, Hudson said visitors would be able to see what the night sky will look like without worrying about keeping warm.

Located on the Terre Haute South High School Campus, 3737 S. 7th St., Terre Haute, the doors open shortly before each program scheduled on Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m., the doors open for two programs, shortly before 2 and 4 p.m., on Dec. 15, and then again shortly before the one program scheduled on Dec. 16 at 2 p.m.

Hudson said the programs are open to the public and any donations made a the door "will help keep the planetarium open in the coming year."

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