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Starry, Starry Night

July 23, 2013

Lick Observatory, an astronomical research facility on Mt. Hamilton for the University of California, has been in operation since 1888. This summer, the Friends of Lick Observatory—an association that provides fundraising and professional support—is introducing a new public outreach program.

The Saturday Stars Program, running five Saturday nights beginning July 20, will provide an exclusive experience with the telescopes. For four hours, groups of 20-30 will be able to use the historic 125-year-old 36” Great Lick Refractor and the 40” Nickel Reflector outfitted with a specialized camera. The camera takes high-resolution images that participants can access through an online archive after their visit. Guests will also have the option to use their own telescopes alongside the Observatory’s.

Telescope operators will be at both telescopes to help locate specific astronomical objects and to ensure safe use of the instruments, which are up to 125 years old.

The Observatory has wanted to do a program like this but, “now that we have the Friends program to support us, we now have the wherewithal to actually make it happen,” said Elinor Gates, a specialist at the Observatory. Friends of the Lick Observatory headed up the main planning as well as publicity for the events. In addition to expanding the Lick’s public outreach efforts, Saturday Stars will serve as “a modest fundraiser,” bringing in $1,000 revenue each of the five nights (though part of that goes to paying the telescope operators and electricity bill).

Saturday Stars joins the Lick Observatory’s continuing public outreach programs, the summer concert series Music of the Spheres and a Friday-evening lecture series with limited telescope access. This summer’s Saturday Stars is something of a trial run, and the Observatory will use participant feedback to expand the program in the future.

—Sonja Hutson

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