The Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park hosts Open Houses at the UMD Observatory on the 5th and the 20th of every month. On Open House evenings a guest speaker will give approximately a half hour talk about a topic in astronomy. The talk is followed by viewing of celestial objects through the observatory's telescopes, weather permitting. If weather does not permit viewing, the talk will still go on as scheduled. Starred talks are those that are likely to be kid-friendly.

Upcoming Speakers

(download a copy of the Fall 2002 Speaker schedule)

  • Friday, September 20, 9:00 pm
    David DeVorkin on "Building the Universe at the National Air and Space Museum" *

    Our new cosmology exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum, "Explore the Universe," contains important parts of some of the most significant astronomical instruments in all history like William Herschel's original 20-foot telescope tube and the Newtonian mirror cage from the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson that Edwin Hubble used to discover galaxies and the expanding universe. People often ask "How did we collect all these things?" where did they come from and how did we decide to display them in the manner that we do in the exhibition? Tonight I will answer some of these questions in an illustrated and animated series of stories that shows how we do business at NASM.

    For more information about the National Air and Space Museum, please visit their website at
    Information about the Explore the Universe exhibit can be found at

  • Saturday, October 5, 9:00 pm
    Stef McLaughlin on "Deep Impact Mission Update"

  • Sunday, October 20, 9:00 pm
    Dr. Cole Miller on "Goldilocks Black Holes"

    Thirty years ago, black holes were an appealing possibility but there was no conclusive evidence of their existence. Now enough certified examples abound that astronomers have divided them into classes based on their mass. I will talk about the most recently discovered class: intermediate-mass black holes, which are neither too light (like stellar-mass black holes) nor too massive (like supermassive black holes), but are just right for a wide diversity of phenomena. I will also describe the current puzzlement about how these objects can form, and some of the competing hypotheses.

  • Tuesday, November 5, 8:00 pm
    Dr. Virginia Trimble on "Life in the Universe"

    Our Earth is unique within the solar system in the combination of characteristics that make it hospitable to carbon-based life. The talk will explore that combination, which aspects of it can be found elsewhere in the solar system, and the possibilities for identifying habitable planets further afield.

  • Wednesday, November 20, 8:00 pm
    Dr. Rosemary Killen on "Space Weather in the Solar System from Mercury to the Galilean system"

  • Thursday, December 5, 8:00 pm CANCELED!
    Dr. Derek Richardson on "Using Earth's Tides to Make Asteroid Moons"

    Asst. Prof Richardson and his students Zoe Leinhardt and Kevin Walsh are studying how tidal disruption of weak asteroids could explain how binaries form among the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) population. They find that a wide variety of outcomes are possible, from small to large companions, circular to elliptical orbits, and spheroidal to ellipsoidal shapes, depending on the close-approach distance and encounter speed of the progenitor with a terrestrial planet like the Earth. A similar process created the spectacular Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 fragment train (scroll down to Tidal Disruption). Click on the snapshot to see an MPEG movie (1.1 MB) showing the formation of an asteroid binary by tidal disruption. In the movie, the camera is fixed above the asteroid as it swings by the Earth (the planet passes by on the left but cannot be seen in this view). The particles that make up the asteroid have been raytraced to make the bodies look more "realistic". For more information about these experiments, see the researchers' Asteroids, Comets, Meteors 2002 conference proceedings submission (200K PDF). Stay tuned for more results from this group!

  • Friday, December 20, 8:00 pm
    Elizabeth Warner on "To buy or not buy..." *

    With Christmas just days away, many folks are considering whether or not to buy a telescope for their children, spouse, or parents. Elizabeth will discuss the pros and cons of buying a telescope.

    Elizabeth's background is in astronomy education. She worked at the campus observatory at the Univ. of South Carolina for nine years. After moving to Virginia, she started working at UMD with the Deep Impact mission and the College Park Scholars Science Discovery and the Universe program. At the beginning of the summer 2002, she also was put in charge of the campus observatory here at UMD.

Get a sneak peek at our Spring 2003 schedule!