Several planets will be visible after sunset in the night sky this winter, and amateur astronomers and curious skywatchers will be able to view them through the University of Missouri-Rolla Observatory’s 16-inch telescope.
Weather permitting, the UMR Observatory will open its doors on four Friday evenings throughout the winter semester. Visitors’ Nights will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30; Friday, Feb. 27; and Friday, March 26; and 9 p.m. Friday, April 30. They are free of charge and no reservations are required. Viewing is subject to weather conditions.
Visitors’ Night dates are set by the quarter moon, says Dr. John L. Schmitt, associate professor of physics at the University of Missouri-Rolla, because it is visible early in the evening. "Even if it is partly cloudy, the moon is very bright and may be visible through thin clouds, also the first quarter moon had well-defined craters and is easy to view."
As many as five different planets, in addition to the moon, can be viewed during this semester’s schedule. "Usually we have one or two planets, plus the moon," Schmitt says. "The locations are set by the orbits of the planets and there just happen to be several planets visible at sunset this semester."
Schmitt notes that visitors interested in catching a glimpse of Mercury at the March 26 viewing should come early. "Mercury will be very low in the western sky at 7 p.m. and viewing will be possible only for limited time," he says. "Very few people know that they have seen Mercury with the naked eye, and even fewer have seen it through a telescope."
Built in 1973, the UMR Observatory is adjacent to UMR’s Stonehenge replica on Highway 63 North, north of V.H. McNutt Hall and west of St. Patrick’s Lane. For more information contact Schmitt in the UMR physics department at (573) 341-4369 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.