Campus & Community

Clouds can’t eclipse moongazing at Chamberlin Observatory

The crowds came, the planets aligned, and then, the clouds settled in.

But overcast skies couldn’t completely block out a lunar eclipse over Denver Feb. 20, and University of Denver students and faculty joined the public and Denver Astronomical Society (DAS) members at DU’s historic Chamberlin Observatoryto watch the earth’s shadow blot out the moon.

DU astronomy Professor Robert Stencel worked with the DAS to host the public event, which featured tours of the observatory’s 26-foot telescope while amateur astronomers set up an array of telescopes of all sizes outside. The evening got off to a disappointing start, with clouds blocking the moon, but patient visitors who bided their time by touring the observatory, listening to lectures and taking in scientific demonstrations were rewarded at about 8:30 p.m. when the moon peeked through.

Stencel says working with DAS members benefits everyone and spreads enthusiasm about astronomy.

“The University and the astronomical society have been working together for more than 50 years,” Stencel says. “And at times when the University didn’t have an astronomy professor, it was the members who helped take care of the observatory.”

The observatory has been one of DU’s gems since 1894, when it opened in Observatory Park, four blocks east of the main campus. DU and the DAS host open houses most Tuesday and Thursday evenings, weather permitting, as well as regular Saturday night quarter-moon viewings and special events. A full schedule is available at the observatory Web site.

Ronald Mickle, DAS chair of outreach and science, says interacting with visitors brings science to the public.

“Astronomy is a very serious hobby for most of us, and for me in particular,” says Mickle, who is working toward a postgraduate degree in astronomy online
 through Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. “But we all enjoy sharing this science with the public.”

Outside the observatory during the lunar eclipse, scores of visitors mingled with DAS members, who shared their telescopes for a closer view of the moon.

Gary and Chris Hanson stopped by because they are interested in buying a telescope. A long talk with DAS member Dan Wray helped the couple focus in on what they need to get started. Meanwhile, DAS member Jack Eastman helped neophyte Debbie Fabrizio learn to set up her new telescope and get started in a hobby she says she plans to stick with.

“I just might be hooked,” she says.

Eastman brought out his 131-year-old brass telescope to share with visitors.

“I’ve been looking at the stars since I got my first telescope when I was a kid,” Eastman says. “I still remember the first time I saw Saturn, on a very small telescope, it was just amazing to me. From there, after my second telescope, my parents said they weren’t going to buy me any more, so I learned to make my own.”

The next total lunar eclipse visible in Denver won’t happen until December 2010.

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