Tellus celebrates National Astronomy Day Saturday
by Marie Nesmith
May 04, 2011 | 2378 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ed Stewart with the Northwest Georgia Astronomical Association explains the different types of telescopes to Vicki Dresser and her granddaughter Jordyn Dresser at last year’s Astronomy Day at Tellus Science Museum.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
Ed Stewart with the Northwest Georgia Astronomical Association explains the different types of telescopes to Vicki Dresser and her granddaughter Jordyn Dresser at last year’s Astronomy Day at Tellus Science Museum. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News, File
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By attending Tellus Science Museum's National Astronomy Day observance on Saturday, David Dundee is hoping amateur stargazers will gain a new appreciation of the "beauty of the sky and the wonder of astronomy." One of the highlights awaiting visitors will be a 20-inch reflecting telescope that holds the key to viewing a plethora of celestial wonders.

"The actual Astronomy Day is an annual event, and it is celebrated by amateurs and museums across the country," said Dundee, astronomy program manager for Tellus. "During our event, we'll have an opportunity to observe the sun during the day safely and during the night, the observatory will be open to look at some objects in the sky [such as] Saturn, the moon [and] there are a few star clusters that are up. So those will be some of the major things people will look at. Most people will want to see Saturn and the moon.

"During the day, we'll have special filters to look at the sun safely. There'll be some sun spots to see, and we'll have special telescopes set up to see what's called prominence, which are loops of gas on the side of the sun. The sun's getting active now, so we're virtually guaranteed, if it's clear, to see some activity on the sun."

In celebration of National Astronomy Day, Tellus will extend its hours to 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., enabling patrons to also tour the museum, view special planetarium shows and participate in children's activities. In addition to viewing planets with the observatory's 20-inch instrument, the public will be able to peer through numerous telescopes on the lawn, provided by the Atlanta Astronomy Club and the Northwest Georgia Astronomical Association.

"[The purpose of the event is] generating awareness for a great family activity, which is observing the stars," said Tellus Executive Director Jose Santamaria. "So [we want] to give everybody an experience looking through our various telescopes, whether it's our solar scope during the day or our big 20-inch telescope and maybe generate a spark that some of these kids can pursue.

"I think [people enjoy] the telescope [the most], the opportunity to look through the big telescope to see objects that you can't see with the naked eye. It's obvious [they] get pulled in by our telescope."

Commenting on the event's main attraction, Dundee said one of the primary benefits of utilizing a large telescope is the objects viewed will have more illumination.

"The purpose of building bigger and bigger telescopes is not to enhance magnification but to enhance the brightness of the image, because a lot of what you look at in the sky is fairly faint. So the bigger the telescope, the brighter the image," Dundee said. "Certainly with the solar telescopes, brightness is not an issue. So you're actually blocking 99 percent of the light. So it's safe to look at the sun.

"In that case, we're actually looking at specific wavelengths of light, in this case hydrogen to look at structures on the sun and around the sun. So that's kind of cool. And then we have some smaller telescopes that have filters that don't look at specific wavelengths but block 99 percent of the light of the sun, so you can see the sunspots clearly. Sunspots are caused by the magnetic field of the sun. They're slightly cooler places on the sun. And the smallest spots you see on the sun are in fact bigger than the Earth. So these are big structures compared to our planet."

New to this year's event, Dundee will guide patrons on Star Walks at 9 and 10 p.m.

"I'll have my bright green laser. We'll go out and I'll just talk about the constellations and what you can see, and I'll tell some stories about the sky," Dundee said. "And it's just me and the sky and the pointer, and that's all. I will probably tell a story about how the bear in the sky got its long, stretched out tail. It comes from a long time ago [when] the Cherokee believed that all bears on the Earth had beautiful, long, graceful tails, and what they used to do to catch their favorite food, which was fish, was they would dangle their beautiful long tales in the water of the lake or river or stream.

"One exceptionally cold winter, one of the bears [that] was still hungry went out to the lake and tangled his beautiful, long tail in the water. And he waited and nothing happened, and it got colder and colder. The lake froze over, and he tried to get up. He noticed that the tail was frozen in the ice, and he pulled and he pulled and 'snap,' his tail broke off. And that's why all bears on Earth have short stubby tails, but the bears in the sky are long-tailed bears. So the Big Dipper -- the handle of the Dipper in fact is the tail of the bear in the sky. So I'll be pointing out the Dippers and showing the long-tailed bears."

Encompassing 120,000 square feet at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville, Tellus is comprised of four main galleries -- The Weinman Mineral Gallery, The Fossil Gallery, Science in Motion and The Collins Family My Big Backyard -- a 120-seat digital planetarium and an observatory. Opened in January 2009, the Smithsonian affiliate has attracted more than 400,000 visitors.

For more information about the museum and its National Astronomy Day program, call 770-606-5700 or visit www.tellusmuseum.org. Admission will be $12 for adults; $10 for individuals 65 and older; $8 for children ages 3 to 17 and students with ID; and free for museum members and active military personnel with ID.