Matt Loffman, Connect2Mason Podcast Director

It is a view from campus not many people ever enjoy. The observatory on the rooftop of Research 1 offers a closer look at the night sky. It connects Earth with the stars, planets or even extraterrestrials that may be out there.

Under the mostly clear sky on the evening of Sept. 29, about 40 George Mason University faculty, students and community members gathered at the observatory for the chance to see distant planets and stars.

One of the volunteers who acted as a guide to the stars said that when the moon is as bright as it was on Tuesday, it can be hard to see stars in the night sky. When this is added to the light pollution surrounding the Fairfax campus, visibility can be limited.

Even with the passing clouds and light pollution, participants were able to see the craters on the moon’s surface—a favorite for senior tourism and events management major Alisa Tibbs, who showed up just for fun.

Senior computer science major Eric Kangas really enjoyed seeing Jupiter and its four moons up close. Kangas went to the observatory for his introductory astronomy class.

Many of the other students present were also there for class because this semester marks the first time that observatory viewing sessions are a formal astronomy class project, according to Becky Ericson, the astronomy lab coordinator.

“To see all this in reality is completely different than studying it in a textbook,” Ericson said. “You can see so much more when you look through a telescope.”
She hopes to instill within students a love for looking at the sky, while also generating interest in astronomy.

“I just want them to look up at night when they’re outside—with or without a telescope,” Ericson added.

The Observatory Director Dr. Harold Geller also hopes students will learn to love astronomy.

“With these small telescopes, it’s about the thrill of looking,” Geller said.

The telescopes currently used can have a magnification of about 30 times, which is enough to make a planet like Jupiter that is five times farther from the sun than Earth visible.

Geller says that when the university gets a larger telescope students will be able to gain experience with their operation and perhaps see more.

“If we got a professional telescope, we could hope to look for extrasolar planets,” Geller said.

For now, Geller is encouraging students to come to the astronomy observation sessions that will be held every few weeks until the end of the semester.
“As long as the weather is clear, come and enjoy the stars,” Geller said.

For a complete list of dates and to check the status of the observations in questionable weather, visit