Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 28, 2023

Learn about the night sky from Homewood

By Ian Yu | March 15, 2012

Baltimore's night sky makes it quite challenging to see the stars at night. Many more would light up the night sky were it not for the light pollution of the cityscape.
However, stargazers in the Hopkins and Baltimore community do have a very convenient option to see the stars and the planets in greater detail, as the Morris W. Offit Telescope sits atop the roof of Bloomberg Hall in the Maryland Space Grant Observatory.  
On Friday nights, visitors to the observatory have a chance to see through the instrument of professional astronomers, gazing into a night sky enhanced by the telescope's 20-inch parabolic mirror.
Chris Martin, a physics graduate student, curates the night sky for curious stargazers, Hopkins students, staff and the general public.
When asked by the visitor about the cost of the telescope, Martin explained that he hasn't been told a specific figure beyond it being an astronomically expensive piece of equipment.
"They just tell me not to break it," he said.
Martin's tour last weekend featured planets that were up in the night sky, including Venus, Mars and Jupiter, as well as a detailed look at the surface of the moon.
The telescope's power was able to bring some of the faintest stars in the night sky into view, and separate a binary star system into two visible stars from the single dot we see with our naked eye.
Part of Martin's show included two star clusters that were surrounded by blue cosmic dust which was helping to reflect some of the light. Ordinarily, this dust is not visible with our own eyes, but aided with the power of the observatory's telescope, one can make out these clouds of cosmic dust.
"In astronomy, that's how you measure how powerful your telescope is, how dim an object you can see," Martin said.
Other stars included in his tour of the winter constellations were the red giant Betelgeuse, the bright star Rigel in the constellation Orion, as well as several clusters and groups of stars such as the beehive cluster. While most of these clusters are too faint for the naked eye to see in the night sky, the Offit Telescope can separate these point sources of light, revealing the many stars that form each cluster, even with the limitations presented by urban light pollution.
"It does a very good job compared to the naked eye, and it does a good job compared to other telescopes in the city," Martin said.
While the full potential of the telescope is still hindered by the lights emanating from the city, Martin explained that there's still a stronger element of convenience in reaching the general public. "It's convenient in terms of people getting here, but it's not very convenient in terms of the actual observing."
From 8:30pm to midnight, Martin is usually in the observatory as visitors come and go throughout the night, weather permitting.
If it's a clear night out, be sure to check out the observatory for a wonderful time among the stars.

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