This past weekend, I had a chance to visit the Mees Observatory in Bristol, NY, about 40 miles south of Rochester. Despite living in Rochester for most of my life, I only learned about its existence last year. The observatory is run by the University of Rochester Department of Physics and Astronomy, and in conjunction with the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS), they offer free tours to the public on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer. Registration is required, and the tours fill up fast, so I was super excited when I managed to find an open spot.
Our evening started with a presentation about the night sky. Jupiter was in a location for prime viewing, so we learned about it’s features and moons. Then, one of our tour guides, Pouya Tanouri, told us a little bit about his research. While many people (me!) are interested in the things that we can see in space like the planets and stars, Pouya is interested in what we can’t see, like dark matter.
The Mees Observatory
Do you see those clouds? The sky had be perfectly clear and sunny on our drive down to Bristol. By the time it was dark enough to see the stars, there weren’t any to see! The clouds had moved in. We were so disappointed. The giant telescope was neat, but what we were really there for was what we could see through the telescope.
Just as we were about to give up and go home, the sky cleared. We could see so many stars. Even without the telescope the view of the sky was amazing.
The first object we looked at was Jupiter, as promised. It was huge! Because Jupiter was low in the sky, the atmosphere made things a little hazy. The stripes were clearly visible, and a couple of times while I was watching, the big red storm came into focus.
Messier 13 Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA); Acknowledgment: C. Bailyn (Yale University), W. Lewin (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), A. Sarajedini (University of Florida), and W. van Altena (Yale University)
My favorite object was a star cluster, Messier 13. The picture above is a composite of images from the Hubble Telescope. What we saw wasn’t quite like that, but it was still impressive. According to NASA, there are over 100,000 stars within this cluster. What looked like a single dot of light to the naked eye resolved into a sea of lights of varying intensity through the telescope.
Besides the tour at the Mees Observatory, the ASRAS offers free telescope viewings from the top of the RMSC planetarium on Saturday nights when the weather is cooperative. No reservation required for those, but they do recommend that you call ahead to make sure it’s still on.
I love that people are doing science all around us, and so often, they are eager to share. This stuff is too exciting to keep to yourself! Do you know of any other great science experiences Rochester has to offer?