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SEDS Hosts Observations of Hale-Bopp Comet

Gabor Csanyi--The Tech
The Society for the Exploration and Development of Space organized a Hale-Bopp comet observation session on the top of Building 37 on Thursday night.

By May K. Tse
Associate News Editor

The MIT chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space ended its series of observation sessions on Thursday for the Hale-Bopp comet, the biggest and brightest comet to come by Earth this century.

"We didn't want people to miss the great comet of 1997," said Jeffrey A. Foust G, SEDS outreach chair. "There probably won't be a brighter one this year."

"Right now, it'll be at its brightest," said Ravi N. Ramkissoon '00, SEDSastronomy chair. About 75 people passed by to look through the group's telescope at Kresge Oval on Wednesday night, and an additional 50 viewed the comet on Thursday.

"We try to attract the public for as many events as possible and to sessions such as this," Ramkissoon said.

SEDS first began their Hale-Bopp comet watches on March 27 and 30 on the roof of Building 37. These watches, co-sponsored by the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, have attracted more than 200 people from the MITcommunity since then.

"We try to have one viewing session a month. I'm supposed to be organizing a trip to New Hampshire, because of the lights surrounding here [in the city],"Ramkissoon said.

"SEDStries to hold at least one observing session each month, usually around the time of the new moon when skies are the darkest. Some of these sessions are held locally on campus, and some are held outside of town to get away from Boston's light-polluted skies. What's observed depends on what is visible in the night sky at that time,"Foust said.

SEDS runs a number of activities

Besides hosting observation sessions, SEDS sponsors speakers, educational outreach programs, and technical projects.

"MIT-SEDS functions chiefly as an interest group for MITstudents who want to learn about space-science and development, and also to meet fellow space-enthusiasts. We invite Institute speakers to our monthly meetings, usually in the fields of astronomy or astronautics," said Wesley A. Watters '98, SEDSpresident.

Last night, the SEDS meeting featured Associate Professor of Physics Jacqueline N. Hewitt PhD '86, who talked about gravitational lenses and radio astronomy.

"SEDS is more than an astronomy club. We have members pursuing technical projects in rocketry, telescope-making, and development of an electronic CCDcamera. We also have an educational outreach program, where we're working with the Boston chapter of the National Space Society to develop presentations about space for elementary school groups," Foust said.

The group's educational outreach program has focused on educating youngsters in the third grade through fifth grade about the possibility of life on Mars as a result of all the recent attention, Foust said.

Besides discussing why life may have developed there, "we're building models of the Mars Pathfinder," Foust said.

"SEDSattracts students who are studying in a variety of fields," including mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, and physics majors, although it draws primarily from majors in the EAPS and aeronautics and astronautics departments, Watters said.

The MIT chapter was the founding chapter of SEDS, now a national organization, Watters said.