At the Widener Observatory, students taking astronomy courses are required to attend for credit, but all guests are encouraged to come just for the fascination of viewing the night sky and a little beyond, something that can’t be done
under any sky littered with light pollution.
Professor Harry Augensen serves as the observatory director and Martin Shultz serves as the support scientist; and Professors Kevin Marshall and Alison Wakelin, along with Alumnus John Conte assist with the sessions every week.
On February 6, 2017, the sky was clear enough to display Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, and the column of stars that make up part of the Orion constellation. The moon could be viewed through two scopes: the main scope viewed the details of its surface and craters, while through the widefield scope, the moon was shown in its waxing gibbous phase, where it approaches the full moon phase. The brightest object visible without a telescope, more so than Sirius, is the planet Venus, which can easily be mistaken for a bright star to the unaided eye. When viewed through the telescope, Venus resembled the moon in a crescent phase. Mars was also in view, even though it unfortunately looked fuzzy due to its
apparent departure. Augensen explained that “Mars was closest to Earth (at opposition) back in May 2016, when it was only… half the Earth-Sun distance. It is now nearly four times farther away from the Earth than it was last May.”
The observatory is open every Monday night and every first Friday of the month. Those who miss out of special opportunities on Fridays may get the chance to find out what they missed on the following Monday, as the sky hardly changes appearance after three nights. People are permitted to photograph their viewings through the telescope, although some objects are not easy to capture. This makes going to the observatory even more worth it, being able to see what can’t be recorded, except with your own memory.
While the observatory can accommodate around forty people and admission is free, it may be helpful to reserve a spot here: (http://www.widener.edu/academics/observatory/default.aspx). If in the event of inclement weather obscures the sky, visitors may be notified through email of any official cancellations. It’s worth the trip if one dresses in regards to weather.