McCormick Observatory, Fan Mountain to Host Public Nights

April 13, 2009 — The University of Virginia's two astronomical observatories will host several free open houses in the coming weeks.

The Leander McCormick Observatory in Charlottesville is open the first and third Friday of each month from 9 to 11 p.m., including this Friday, April 17.

The Fan Mountain Observatory, located south of Charlottesville, is open to the public twice each year, once in April and once in October. The next open house is April 24 from 8 to 11 p.m. Advance reservations are required to visit Fan Mountain, except for members of the Friends of the Leander McCormick Observatory.

"We will start allowing people to look through the telescopes at Fan Mountain as soon as
it gets dark enough, which should be around 8:30 p.m.," said astronomer Ed Murphy, who directs the astronomy department's public outreach program. "The event will run until everyone has had a chance to look through the telescopes – weather permitting."

What viewers might see is shown on this map of the April sky. Murphy said members of the general public will have the opportunity to observe through either the 40-inch or 31-inch telescope.

"After they have had a look through one telescope, they can ask for a time to look through the other telescope," he said.

Murphy noted that Friends of the Leander McCormick Observatory will receive a ticket that allows them to look through either telescope at any time.

Information on becoming a member of the Friends of the Leander McCormick Observatory is available online.

Fan Mountain is about a 20-minute drive from Charlottesville to the base of the mountain, and another 15 minutes climb along a steep and winding road to the observatory.

Murphy advises visitors to dress warmly, as the mountain at night will be significantly colder than the day temperature in Charlottesville.

For information, call 434-924-7494.

— By Fariss Samarrai