09/18/2011 08:57 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2011

Up on the Roof, Part 1

Events of September 14th, 2011

(Yes, the title of this post is taken from the Carole King song, which I'm not ashamed to say I first heard in the IMAX movie Space Station 3D.)

My Wednesday wasn't the best. It was my first full week of college, so I had all of the discussion sessions that I didn't have the week before, which meant I had five classes, three of which were back-to-back and far apart. (I'm looking into renting a bike.)

But once all of my classes were over, I was glad it was Wednesday! Because Wednesday nights are when the Boston University Astronomical Society (BUAS) meets in the College of Arts and Sciences building! I'd gone to the first meeting the previous Wednesday night, but it had been raining, so we hadn't been able to actually do any observing, although we had gotten a tour of the observatory on the roof of the building and gotten a nice view of the Boston skyline.

So, after dinner and finishing my anthropology homework, I headed across the street and up to room 502. The sun was setting, and it was mostly cloudy, but some clear sky was showing. The weather had been changing throughout the day, so I was hopeful it would clear up in time for us to do some stargazing.

Our scheduled subject of discussion that night was the moon, so the club's leaders, upperclassmen majoring in astronomy or astrophysics, fielded questions from the rest of us about the moon's rotation (Because of the way the moon is gravitationally bound to the Earth, we only see one side of the moon, but an observer on the moon could see different parts of the Earth- if you've noticed, the photos taken of Earth from the moon by the Apollo astronauts don't all show the same continents!), and the process of libration. (The moon wobbles a little, so even though it always looks the same from Earth, the areas in view at the edge of the disc are sometimes a little different.)

The club's leaders got a message from the observatory curator, Quinn Sykes, saying that the sky was clearing up and that he would open the dome to the public (and us) at 8:30, about half-an-hour away. In the meantime, we played around with the Stellarium computer program and practiced looking at gasses through spectroscopes to see what they were made out of. (It's actually really pretty- the energy released by the molecules in the gas creates different bright colors you can observe. That's actually how neon signs work.)