Stargazing 101 in Northern Virginia

For insight into the night sky, we turned to an astrophysics professor and the director of the George Mason University Observatory.

Photo courtesy of Allexxandarx/Adobe Stock

If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard that’s bigger than a doormat, you may have the ability to spend some evenings stargazing. For insight into the night sky, we turned to Harold A. Geller, director of the George Mason University Observatory and astrophysics professor.

How would you advise recreational stargazers to learn more?

If it’s just a matter of how to find your way in the night sky, the best way is to go to one of the public observing sessions. There’s a Northern Virginia Astronomy Club; they’re on campus once a month. They have a number of events that are available to anybody in the public, and just by going to one of those, they’d learn a heck of a lot about how to find their way in the sky.

What about those who are ready to invest in a telescope?

Don’t buy a telescope until you’ve actually seen many different ones in use.

Has light pollution become a bigger problem in recent years?

That’s something I had to deal with when I was raising money for the telescope for the university here. Nobody thought that we should get such a large one, and I said, “Look, we’ll be able to do some good things.” With the technology, we can make allowances for that added light pollution.

Northern Virginia Astronomy Club

• Membership is $35 per year and includes access to their library and eligibility for the loaner scope program.
• The Almost Heaven Star Party runs July 21-25 at Spruce Knob Mountain Center in Circleville, West Virginia.

Where To Go

• Mason Observatory: 10401 York River Road, Fairfax
Turner Farm Park: 925 Springvale Road, Great Falls
McCormick Observatory at the University of Virginia: 600 McCormick Road, Charlottesville

Total Eclipse of the Sun

On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will be witnessed across the country, the first such eclipse widely viewable in the U.S. since 1991. For more info, visit NASA’s website.

(July 2017 Outdoor Fun Guide)