MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-On the evening of Thursday, April 1, from 7:15-9:30 p.m., the Middlebury College Physics Department will hold an open house at Bicentennial Hall's rooftop observatory, weather permitting. There is no set program; the public is invited to come anytime during these hours. Admission is free. If the skies are not clear enough for viewing, the event will be postponed until the following evening, Friday, April 2, at the same hours.
The "star attractions" will not be stars, but planets. All five of the naked eye planets are now aligned across the sky in the early evening. The next two weeks offer the best opportunity for many years to view all the planets at once. The brightest of these is Venus, which is shining brilliantly in the western sky during evening twilight. Below it and a bit to the right is Mercury, which will be most visible 45 minutes to an hour after sunset near the western horizon. A little to the left of Venus is Mars, which should look slightly reddish. Then comes Saturn, high up in the sky above Orion, and finally comes Jupiter, high and bright in the eastern-southeastern sky.
According the Middlebury College Professor of Physics Frank Winkler, the most interesting planets for viewing with the telescope are Saturn and Jupiter, which will be visible all evening.
The observatory dome houses a 24-inch computer-controlled telescope, and several smaller telescopes also will be available on the roof deck for observing planets, the moon and other objects.
Since cloud cover obscures visibility, the open house nights will take place only if the sky is reasonably clear. If the weather appears uncertain, call the observatory at 802-443-2266 after 5:30 p.m. on the evening of the open house for a status report.
Bicentennial Hall is located on Bicentennial Way on the western edge of the Middlebury College campus. Visitors should follow state Route 125 West from the village center through the campus. Bicentennial Way, which is the second right after the flashing light at the crest of the hill, leads to a parking lot and Bicentennial Hall. Enter the building and take the elevators to the top floor, following the signs.
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