Constructed in 1963-64, the University of Maryland Observatory was initially seen as an important component of the teaching and research program in the Department of Astronomy. Public programs were started almost immediately to bring the excitement of astronomy to the University community and the general public. Although the growing lights of the DC Metro area have made serious research more difficult at the UMD Observatory, the facilities continue to play an important role in the education and outreach of the Astronomy Department. With more than 40 astronomy undergraduate majors, over 2000 students in our service courses and more than 2500 visitors each year, we have a very active facility.
Explore the Universe
Sophomore students from the College Park Scholars "Science, Discovery, and the Universe" (SDU) program and freshmen from Northwestern High School, Hyattsville, work together on telescopic observing projects during the fall and spring semesters.
Other SDU students do more independent observing projects or assist with Open Houses as part of their sophomore projects.
The ASTR 100 students are often (but not always) required to attend at least one Open House event each semester.
ASTR 310, Optical Astronomy Techniques, is centered on observational astronomy. Students study imaging and analytical techniques in class and are assigned observational projects throughout the semester. The students in this class are typically astronomy majors and use the larger, permanently mounted telescopes in the observatory.
Students in ENAE 441, Space Navigation and Guidance, come to the observatory for one or two evenings around sunset to observe satellites.
The UMD Observatory hosts public nights or Open Houses on the 5th and the 20th of every month. There is a group session (by reservation) and a public session (8pm Nov-Apr, 9pm May-Oct). On Open House evenings a guest speaker gives an approximately 25-30 minute talk about a topic in astronomy. The presentation is followed by viewing of celestial objects through the telescopes if the weather permits. Open Houses are attended by more than 2500 visitors each year and are free to the general public.
New Telescope Owners Nights
New Telescope Owners Nights is a special program that we hold in January in answer to the "I got a telescope for Christmas but don't know how to use it!" calls that we get just after the holidays. Check back in mid-December for the details about the next sessions and a flier that you can include with a gift telescope.
PS Before buying that telescope, be sure to read our advice on purchasing telescopes.
Learn the Sky Nights
A summer mini-course held for the first time in 2002 for people interested in learning more about amateur astronomy, Learn the Sky Nights is a more involved program meant to give a hands-on approach to amateur astronomy. Participants learn the basics starting with altitude and azimuth, finding constellations and satellites, star-hopping, then move to more advanced topics like the basics of astrophotography. If there is enough interest, we also hold an advanced section that includes discussions on topics such as how to find, track, observe, image asteroids and comets, supernovae, etc.
The UMD Observatory will occasionally be open or our staff will have portable telescopes set up on campus for special astronomical events, such as eclipses or unusually bright comets. On-campus observing of Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 attracted over 5000 people. The UMD Observatory also sets up telescopes for sunspot viewing on Maryland Day, the University's Spring Open House event.