Indiana University Kokomo

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KOKOKO, Ind. — Astronomy enthusiasts can learn more about the recent NASA mission to Mercury at a free open house Sunday, December 9, at the Indiana University Kokomo Observatory.

The ObservatoryThe ObservatoryPatrick Motl, assistant professor of physics, will begin the open house at 7 p.m. with a short presentation about the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission. Observation will continue through 10 p.m., weather permitting.

Visitors will get the closest view possible of Jupiter and its moons through the Observatory's telescopes, which are a six-inch Takahashi refracting telescope and a 16-inch Meade reflecting telescope mounted together. The Takahashi provides exceptionally sharp images of planets, while the Meade lets stargazers see fainter objects in the sky, due to its larger light collecting area.

"Jupiter passed through its opposition just the week before, so Jupiter is rising as the sun sets, and is as close to Earth as it gets," Motl said. He added that viewers should also be able to see open star clusters like the Pleides and Hyades and the Orion nebula, which is "one of the closest and most spectacular star forming regions in our skies."

The MESSENGER mission to the solar system's innermost planet launched in August 2004, and spent a year orbiting Mercury and gathering data from 2011 to 2012. NASA recently announced it had found compelling support for the long-held hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant water and ice in its permanently shadowed polar craters.

It was the space agency's first mission to Mercury since 1975, and the mission was expected to cover more than 5 billion miles.

The open house is free and open to the public in the Observatory, 105 E. Rebecca Lane. Free parking is available on campus.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.