Behlen Observatory public night is Feb. 15

UNL's Behlen Observatory near Mead will be open to the public from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Feb. 15.

Provided the sky is clear, visitors will be able to view a variety of objects with the 30-inch telescope and with smaller telescopes set up outside of the observatory. These include the moon, the planet Jupiter, the Great Orion Nebula, a star cluster, and double or multiple stars. At 8 p.m., a member of the observatory staff will give an illustrated talk about objects in the evening sky.

Because the moon is our closest celestial neighbor and has no atmosphere to obscure the view, we are able to see its surface clearly through the telescope. Large areas of the lunar surface are covered with craters left by ancient meteor impacts. Other areas, known as maria or seas, are darker in color and contain few craters. Lunar mountains can be seen along the edges of the maria. Early astronomers believed that the maria were oceans similar to those on the Earth. We now know that they are actually smooth plains formed when lava flooded large impact basins. The moon will be near first quarter phase during the public night. At that time these various features are most easily seen in the evening.

There is no admission charge for the public night. Further information, including maps and directions to the observatory, is available on the observatory website,

Future public nights are scheduled on March 8 and April 12, also from 7:30 to 10 p.m.

— Edward Schmidt, Physics and Astronomy