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Observatory to host NASA “Vesta Fiesta” (w/video)

The University of Denver and the Denver Astronomical Society will host a “Vesta Fiesta” at the University’s historic Chamberlin Observatory.

The event celebrates the beginning of the NASA Dawn mission’s year-long visit to the protoplanet Vesta. The Dawn spacecraft left Earth on Sept. 27, 2007, and will reach Vesta this month after a journey of two billion miles.

Dawn is the NASA’s second mission powered by advanced technology known as ion propulsion, and it’s the first NASA mission to orbit two solar system objects.

DU Astronomy Professor Robert Stencel, director of the Chamberlin and Mt. Evans observatories, says using data from Dawn’s visit will help scientists understand some of the most fundamental questions in planetary science: How did planets form? What were the starting materials that formed our solar system? What is the origin of meteorites that fall on Earth?

The Dawn spacecraft will send back data that will give scientists a snapshot of the early solar system and answers to these questions and more.

Stencel says the Chamberlin Observatory still operates very much as it did when it was delivered in 1894. And while modern telescopes have surpassed the scope’s capability, it is still an excellent learning tool for DU astronomy students.

“Students at the University of Denver, of course through the astronomy classes have special, nearly private, access to this fabulous instrument,” Stencel says. “Students can learn a great deal observing with this telescope, the motions of the stars and planets as well as phases of the moon. But for more modern research, we provide them access to telescopes here on the ground and in space through our astrophysics program as part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.”  

DU’s Vesta Fiesta will feature viewing of the moon and Saturn through the historic 20-inch telescope and society members’ telescopes early in the evening, along with talks about Vesta and meteorites, the latest images from NASA and hands-on exhibits of meteorites believed by scientists to have come from Vesta.

The free event is open to the public and will run from 7–10 p.m. Aug. 6. The observatory is located in University Park, 2930 E. Warren Ave., in Denver, a few blocks east of the DU. The protoplanet rises into view over Denver that night after 10 p.m. and will be visible with the 20-inch scope and other telescopes, conditions permitting.

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