Our Open Houses are usually very well attended. By helping out at Open Houses you are ensuring that we give the public a fun and unique experience. In general, you will be there to assist with the operations of Open House (e.g. overseeing activities in the lecture hall, setting up telescopes, directing parking) and to answer any questions the public may have about Open House, our telescopes, or astronomy in general. Please remember that we run the Open House as a service to the public and we should do our best to be polite and patient with them. Many of them are very unfamiliar with how telescopes work or what astronomy is about.

There are three primary jobs: the MC, parking attendant, and telescope operator. Brief descriptions are below with more details further down.


  • Master of Ceremonies (MC): most important duty as this is the person who the guests see as the department representative!
    • grad student (see schedule)
    • in charge of activities in lecture hall to include
      • greeting guests
      • turning lights on and off
      • setting up/putting away AV equipment
      • introducing the guest speaker, overseeing Q&A
      • getting a head count
    • Details below
  • Parking Attendant: traffic controller
    • volunteer (usually Elizabeth!)
    • in charge of activities in parking lot to include
      • turning lot lights on and off
      • putting out signs
      • directing traffic
      • directing guests to lecture hall
    • Details below
  • Telescope Operators
    • staff and volunteers
    • in charge of activities in observatory to include
      • putting out traffic cones
      • opening and closing observatory
      • operating telescopes
      • talking about targets
    • Details below

Arrival Time

Everyone should arrive at the observatory at least 20 minutes before the first lecture of the night.

  • May -- Oct (summer): group session starts at 8:00 PM, public session starts at 9:00 PM
  • Nov -- Apr (winter): group session starts at 7:00 PM, public session starts at 8:00 PM

I will let everyone know a few days before Open House whether or not there will be a group session.

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MC details

  • Lights
    • Main fluorescents in the lecture hall
      • Set of three switches at entrance ('back' of hall) and right of chalkboard ('front' of hall).
      • left switch controls bank of lights over chalkboard (front of hall)
      • middle controls left column and front half of middle column
      • right switch controls back half of middle and right column
      • These should all be on at the beginning, but after the lecture, it is sometimes best to only turn on the very front (left switch) so as not to blind folks after the presentation.
    • Red ceiling lights (controlled by the large black rheostat by the chalk board)
    • Bathroom lights
    • Main entrance and bathroom hall lights (can be left on during talk for ambient light)
  • AV equipment
    • Key to file cabinet is in back closet on right wall past door. (Open door, walk straight in and look right, it should be hanging hooked on a cable.) The cabinet needs to be kept locked if we are particularly crowded or if you're not within sight of it.
    • Get the LCD projector out of the 3rd drawer and laser pointer out of the second drawer. If needed, a pc laptop is also in the second drawer.
    • Pull down the screen (hint: pull it towards the chalk board as you pull down - sometimes it takes several tries to get it to stay down)
    • Other (rarely used!) AV options:
      • slides: projector is located in back closet. Load slides in carousel. Projector control is at front of room coiled near light switches.
      • overhead projector: front of room on wood cart. just set on table at front
      • movies: VCR (front of room in tv cart cabinet) or DVD (laptop) can be hooked to LCD projector NOT the TV. There's also a set of speakers (wood cart) that can be hooked up.
    • Take care of problems with the projector(s)
      • Burned out bulbs: The overhead has a spare bulb in it that you just slide over. Please tell me if you do that so I know to change the spare! Spare bulbs for both the slide and overhead projector are kept on the shelf under the slide projector.
      • Jammed slides: There are plastic tweezers next to the slide projector that can be used to fish out the slide.
  • Introducing the guest speaker: You should be prepared to give a very short (1-2minute) introduction of yourself (where you are from, what year you are, what you are studying...). Then 2-3 minutes introducing the guest speaker.
  • Answer questions about what happens at the Open House or about astronomy, whatever the guests may ask. If you aren't sure of an answer, feel free to get me!

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Parking Attendant Details

Turn on (and off) parking lot lights (3 switches on top of circuit box in closet of lecture hall).

Put out signs at front gate and if needed sign giving directions to overflow lot.

On nights when our parking lot is full somebody will need to direct traffic. I will usually try to do this assuming that you are taking care of stuff inside the lecture hall! However, I may occasionally need help, so please be familiar with this. We have large flashlights with colored cones (like airport ground crew). People will quickly park where they are blocking entrances so whenever any other helper has a chance, they should check with the person directing traffic to see if they need help. Often times we need someone to take a license plate number down and find the owner so they can move their car. The traffic director may also need help in counting how many empty spaces may be available. Keep in mind the following points when directing traffic (the following traffic flow diagram may help you visualize all this):

There are two handicap spaces in front of the lecture hall. The other spaces are marked with green.

parking diagram
  • It is ok to park in all spaces marked "NO PARKING" except for the eastern most one closest to the entrance
  • When there are no more spaces in the main lot you need to divert traffic into the overflow lot at the UMD Systems Admin. Watch that nobody parks to block the secondary exit as many people do not recognize it as an exit. You will need to tell people to follow the exit all the way to the chainlink fence (orange) which will automatically open when they get close enough and then they can proceed to the UMD Systems lot.
  • When we have large early groups there is often a huge traffic flow problem as the group tries to exit while people are coming in for the public talk. Divert the people leaving to the secondary exit if they are leaving when the public is arriving..
  • When the main lot is completely full, do not allow people to pull up to the building just to drop someone off. There is no turning room by the building when the lot is full. They should drop people off before the turn to the secondary exit. They can then continue to exit that way.

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Telescope Operator Details

Set up traffic cones where the parking lot narrows between the trailer and observatory. They are kept in one of the closets in the observatory lobby.

Telescopes are set up while the first lecture of the evening is going on. We also have computers we set up to display images we've taken through the telescopes. There is a separate page of detailed instructions for the telescopes and computers.

You will be at the telescopes to:

  • Inform people what objects we are looking at through which telescopes. Repeat this information as you see new people coming in (you may want to stand on a chair to be noticed).
  • Display images on the computers. If you can, pick images of objects we're viewing that night.
  • Inform people of and answer questions about our telescopes ("what is the magnification?" is the most common question).
  • Answer questions about celestial objects and astronomy in general. We do have an Observer's Handbook in the lobby if you need to refer to it.
  • Keep people from touching and moving things on the telescopes that shouldn't be touched and moved (like the weight hanging off of the 8").
  • Move a telescope back to an object if it does get moved off of it.

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Closing Down

  • Bring traffic cones inside
  • Shut down telescopes, put computers away, close roofs
  • Turn off parking lot lights
  • Lock all doors
  • Lock the gate. Sometimes people hang out at their cars or even stay parked to make out in our parking lot. We do need to approach these people and tell them we are getting ready to lock the gate and they do need to leave. The safest way to do it is to drive right up to them with your brights on so you can see them before you get out of your vehicle.

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