FALL 2015 Astronomy Observing Sessions
Check back often to see changes in scheduling due to weather or other reasons.
Also see us at:
The George Mason University Observatory at the Fairfax Campus building
Research Hall formerly known as Research I (see campus map
officially opened 24 January 2007.
No one is allowed on the roof without
authority of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
There will be a number of informal night sky observing sessions
scheduled this semester.
Attendance at these sessions is open to all
students, faculty, staff and the interested public. The primary telescope used in the observatory atop the pier is the new 0.8m (~32") Ritchey-Chretien telescope. There is a 12 inch
Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope used on the patio that
provides good views of
the sky as well.
We still possess the 6" refractor originally built by GMU students in 1975 (it is on display in the glass alcove).
Please note that the observing session will be canceled
if the sky is more than half overcast one hour before the session is
scheduled to begin, or if it is too windy (>30mph) to open the observatory dome. If in doubt,
check weather forecast here or
here, and check the Clear Sky Chart for the area and check back on this webpage before scheduled observing sessions.
The location of the observing sessions is the observatory at Research Hall.
Access to the observatory is limited. Guests will be met in Research Hall lobby by the main elevators. If you are late, you can stay by the elvators and someone will meet you, after you call the observatory at 703-993-9558 and have been acknowledged by observatory personnel.
The observing sessions
will begin near the times indicated below
and will last approximately 1.5 hours weather permitting.
NOTE: The observatory deck has very rough flooring. Guests are advised to WEAR ONLY CLOSED TOED SHOES. NO SANDALS or other open toed shoes.
The sessions are currently scheduled for specific MONDAY EVENINGS.
learn more about the observatory visit the observatory website.
Observing Session Schedule - SUBJECT TO CHANGE WITHOUT PRIOR NOTICE:
Remember: Check here about 1 hour before coming to Research Hall in the event of clouds/rain/other reasons for cancellation.
PLEASE NOTE: There will be no more scheduled observing sessions until the SPRING semester begins.
- Monday 31 August 2015: Dr. Michael Summers, Co-Investigator on the New Horizons Mission to Pluto, will talk about Pluto as revealed by the New Horizons spacecraft which passed Pluto on 14 July 2015. Talk starts at 7:30PM followed by observing beginning at 8PM, weather permitting. Talk will take place regardless of the weather.
The New Horizons Mission to Pluto and Charon
The New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to the Pluto/Charon system
on July 14, 2015. The entire world watched on TV, radio, and social media as
the flyby occurred. There has not been such public interest in space
exploration since perhaps the Apollo missions to the Moon in the 1960s.
The Pluto encounter was the capstone of an ambition, begun by NASA 50 year ago,
to explore the solar system with robotic spacecraft.
The Kuiper Belt is a region that contains over 100,000 dwarf ice planets such as
Pluto and represents the third, and perhaps the most volatile rich, type of
planet in our solar system. The first two types are represented by terrestrial
(e.g. Earth and Mars) and gas giant (e.g. Jupiter and Saturn) planets, and have
been previously explored by robotic spacecraft. The New Horizons spacecraft is
the first to explore a dwarf ice planet up close. Before the New Horizons
encounter we knew that Pluto is unique in our solar system, with active surface
processes and an unstable atmosphere that is rapidly escaping to space. But the
information from the New Horizons spacecraft gave us a completely new view of
Pluto, its history, and how it evolves.
The images of Pluto and Charon were astonishing, and gave us some extraordinary
surprises. Those surprises included a gigantic glacier, presumably made of
nitrogen, methane, and possibly other ices, at Plutos equator. Another was
the apparently "fresh" nature of the surfaces of both Pluto and Charon implying
geological "young" ages for these objects. And yet another surprise was the
global haze layer seen after the spacecrafts closest approach and when it was
looking back at Pluto. The atmosphere, backlit by the sun, gave Pluto a "halo"
Most importantly, the information from the encounter has opened up completely
new questions about how planets evolve. In this talk I will give the latest
results from the New Horizons mission and discuss what we can expect over the
coming weeks and months as the full encounter observations are transmitted back
- Monday 7 September 2015: LABOR DAY HOLIDAY - SCHOOL CLOSED
- Monday 14 September 2015: Talk starts at 7PM followed by observing beginning at 7:30PM weather perimitting.
- Monday 21 September 2015: Talk starts at 7PM followed by observing beginning at 7:30PM weather perimitting IF AND ONLY IF 14 September session canceled.
- Monday 28 September 2015: Talk starts at 7PM followed by observing beginning at 7:30PM weather permitting.
- Monday 5 October 2015: Talk starts at 7PM followed by observing beginning at 7:30PM weather permitting IF AND ONLY IF 28 September session canceled.
- Monday 12 October 2015 -- COLUMBUS DAY HOLIDAY SCHOOL CLOSED
- Monday 19 October 2015: Talk starts at 6:30PM followed by observing session beginning at 7PM weather permitting.
- Monday 26 October 2015: Talk starts at 6:30PM followed by observing s
ession beginning at 7PM weather permitting IF AND ONLY IF 19 October session is cancelled.
- Monday 2 November 2015: Talk starts at 5:30PM followed by observing s
ession beginning at 6PM weather permitting.
- Monday 9 November 2015: Talk starts at 5:30PM followed by observing s
ession beginning at 6PM weather permitting IF AND ONLY IF 2 November session is cancelled.
- Monday 16 November 2015: Talk starts at 5PM followed by observing s
ession beginning at 5:30PM weather permitting.
- Monday 23 November 2015: Talk starts at 5PM followed by observing s
ession beginning at 6PM weather permitting IF AND ONLY IF 16 November session is cancelled.
- 26 Thursday 2015: UNIVERSITY CLOSED -- HAPPY THANKSGIVING WEEKEND
- Monday 30 November 2015: Talk starts at 5PM followed by observing session beginning at 5:30PM weather permitting.
- Monday 7 December 2015: Talk starts at 5PM followed by observing session beginning at 5:30PM weather permitting IF AND ONLY IF 30 November session is cancelled.
ENJOY the WINTER HOLIDAYS and BREAK from classes
PLEASE NOTE: If these dates are not convenient, or if you live in Maryland, or if you'd just like more observing opportunities, you may want to consider visiting the University of Maryland College Park Observatory. The director of the observatory is Elizabeth Warner, and she runs many great programs at the UMCP observatory.
ALSO NOTE: If you have the time, and the interest in more details about research in astrophysics, come join in our Astrophysics Journal Club.
Please attend for your own enjoyment! All are invited, so bring a friend.
Dr. Harold Geller
College of Science
School of Physics, Astronomy and Computational Science
George Mason University
4400 University Drive
Fairfax, Virginia 22030