Racing With The Moon

Trip Start Mar 07, 1997
Trip End Dec 25, 1998

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Flag of United States  , Tennessee
Friday, May 23, 1997

Go with me? It's best when the moon isn't full. No, we're not worried about werewolves, we're simply avoiding high noon on the moon.

"You need shadows for detail," says Bobby Thompson, manager of UTC's observatory and producer of the Friday evening planetarium shows. "And a first-quarter moon offers the best viewing."

But Bobby invites us to come any Friday for the up-to-date video show and the current planet.

Hale-Bopp may be history now, but we can see the latest from the Hubble Space Telescope. It's downloaded off the Internet on Friday morning and projected onto the domed ceiling for our viewing Friday night. This is truly show biz of the stars and great for ages from grade school to grandparent.

Inside the viewing room, we're surrounded with silhouettes of Chattanooga landmarks. As the sun sets beyond Lookout Mountain, the darkening sky gradually fills with stars. We are guided past constellations of lions and bears and mighty warriors. The music fades as the sky lightens and we're back in our chairs rubbing our eyes in wonder.

On clear nights, we can scoot upstairs after the show to see the real thing through the 20-inch telescope. This week the moon is OK (just past full), but the main attraction is Mars. Recent weather changes have produced great white clouds at surface level on the Red Planet; put your eye against the scope and see the polar caps, too.

If you're hooked on astronomy or are about to be, join the Barnard Astronomical Society. The members meet monthly at the observatory and gather regularly at prime viewing spots for optimum stargazing. There's a junior group, too.

And anyone with a computer and a link to the Internet can access the daily space and sky updates on the NASA homepage at http:/ ASA -- homepage.html.

As to Fridays -- the observatory may seem a little hard to find, nestled in the trees off Brainerd Road. But visit often, no matter what the phase of the moon. See you there.

UTC Clarence T Jones Observatory, Brainerd Road, Chattanooga
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