In 2001, Montgomery College donated a Celestron 14″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (SCT) and an observatory dome to the Greenbelt Astronomy Club. The club, now named the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt, raised money which was matched by Gil and Jaylee Mead, NASA scientists and founders of Mead Family Foundation. With contributions from the City of Greenbelt, the City of Greenbelt Observatory was dedicated in 2009. Every two weeks on Saturday nights, the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt holds star parties at the observatory.
The observatory is by Northway Fields and is connected by an unpaved road to Ridge Road.
The Northway Fields at sunset. A kick ball game has just finished. There is no power at Northway Fields.
Because there is no electricity at Northway Fields, these car batteries are used to power the observatory dome and the telescope. Doug Love, the director of the observatory, charges these batteries at his home.
This is the observatory’s backup generator. In winter time, it might be too cold for the car batteries to function.
Doug Love, the observatory’s director, starts tonight’s log. Normally the weather is noted first. The star parties start after dark and tonight it is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m.
Doug Love opens the observatory dome, which is powered by the car batteries.
Doug Love looks out of the observatory. He says that the first thing he likes to do after opening the dome is to see what he can see with the naked eye.
It is a moonless sky; the moon will not rise until later tonight. Here Doug Love looks at a star chart for the coordinates of Vega, one of the brightest stars in the sky right now.
The dome slit comes in two parts. Here Doug Love closes the lower part and opens the upper part in order to aim the telescope at objects higher in the sky.
Love points to Vega on the star chart. He will aim the telescope at that first and then move it to observe the nearby double-double star Epsilon Lyrae.
In the sky, “latitude” is called declination, which is expressed in degrees, and “longitude” is called right ascension, expressed in hours, minutes and seconds. In this photo is the telescope’s right ascension scale, and Love is trying to set it to 18 hours and 36 minutes for Vega.
Love sets the other scale which is called declination. The process of setting declination and right ascension is called “setting the circles.”
In order to observe the double-double star, Doug Love takes out a higher power eyepiece made by Meade. He tells that there are two companies competing with each other to make telescopes: Meade and Celestron. Greenbelt’s telescope is made by Celestron but now he is putting on a Meade eyepiece. (This Meade Company is not related to the Mead Family Foundation from which Greenbelt received money for the observatory.)
Doug Love fits the Meade eyepiece on the Celestron telescope.
Epsilon Lyrae is a famous double-double star. I can see two stars but cannot discern that each one is a double star. Love says that a society member can see that with the naked eye at his cabin in West Virginia.
The next object to observe is the famous Ring Nebula (M57) which is between two stars, Sheliak and Sulafat, in the constellation of Lyra. Love tells that many stars have beautiful Arabic names and the catalogue name M57 comes from the French astronomer Charles Messier.
Ring Nebula shows up in the telescope as a faint ring. Here Love writes down what has been observed in tonight’s log.
Next, Love wants to find Dumbbell Nebula (M27) but he is not successful.
The last object observed tonight is Andromeda Galaxy or M31. It shows up in the telescope as a faint cloud.
Michael Chesnes, a member of the Astronomical Society of Greenbelt, has brought his own telescope.
Chesnes shows me the control knobs at one end of his telescope.
It is 9 p.m., time to close the observatory. Here Chesnes signs the log.
Doug Love and Michael Chesnes put the cover back on the telescope.
Doug Love stores the eyepiece in its box.
Chesnes turns the switch to close the dome.
Doug Love closes the dome.
After Montgomery College donated the telescope and dome to Greenbelt Astronomy Club in 2001, they sat in a member’s house for several years while the club raised money to move them to Greenbelt. Love knew Gil Mead at NASA and talked him into donating $10,000 for this effort. Gilbert Mead inherited a paper manufacturing fortune which was worth several billion dollars and established the Mead Family Foundation with his wife Jaylee Mead. Both Gilbert and Jaylee Mead were scientists working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and they once lived at Greenbriar Condominiums in Greenbelt East. They were passionate about theater and gave $50 million to theaters in the D.C. region, including $35 million to Arena Stage. They also gave locally, to Greenbelt Arts Center and Greenbelt Observatory. Greenbelt’s telescope is named after Mead. Gil Mead passed away in 2007 and Jaylee Mead several weeks ago on September 14, 2012.
See the Astronomical Society’s future star party schedule at the society’s website.