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BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) -
If you've ever wanted to zoom in on the planets and galaxies in a dark night sky, and you're not ready to invest in a good telescope, there are only a few public observatories in the state. Tonight, FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to a place that is out of this world in the Heart of Louisiana.
On a clear evening, when daylight fades, the Highland Road Park Observatory comes to life. The darkening sky brings with it the hope of celestial surprises.
"They can see the rings of Saturn, they can see the cloud bands of Jupiter," said Grey Guzik, a professor in the LSU Department of Physics. "They can see the moons of Jupiter, they can see globular clusters, which are probably ancient remnants of the start of our own galaxy, and those are hundreds of thousands of light years away."
Guzik briefs amateur astronomers on the latest telescope upgrades.
The telescopes are magnifying the stars and the planets more than 100 times. But even more important than the magnification is the telescope's ability to gather light.
"This is a 20-inch mirror up here," Guzik said. "We have another 16-inch. At 44.45, that enables us with a CCD camera to be able to see objects which are several million times fainter than what you could see with your normal life."
LSU provides the equipment. The Baton Rouge Recreation Department provides the park site, and the Baton Rouge Astronomical Society has volunteers who introduce visitors to the night sky.
"I can point and click and select what I want to look at," said Benn Toman, with the society. "You're always looking for that ‘wow' factor, you know? And that's what makes it fun for me being out here - especially the first- timers."
"The Baton Rouge Astronomical Society uses the system here for searching for asteroids, and they discovered about 40 or 50 new asteroids with the telescope here," Guzik said.
Including one new asteroid named "Baton Rouge."
"It's so awesome," said one girl after taking a long look.
The free public viewings are meant to stimulate young minds and get them interested in exploring this final frontier.
"Like exploding stars and black holes in the center of our galaxy, and whether or not there is even any life out there in the rest of the universe," Guzik said. "That's a fundamental question - are we alone?"
They're the kinds of questions and stellar sights that can make a person say, "wow."
You can visit the observatory near Baton Rouge and do some star-gazing most Friday and Saturday nights. For more information on times and special programs, click here and here.
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