Open-toed shoes are not permitted on the observing deck. Please dress warmly (it can be several degrees cooler and much windier on the roof than at ground level).
As you enter the Rita Hollings Science Center (RHSC), you should run into one of our senior students. They can answer your questions about where different activities are located. If you have mobility issues, please tell this student. Our regular observing deck is not accessible, but we do have a back-up deck that is. Sometimes people come early, but unfortunately we rarely are ready before our stated start time. On the first floor of the building we'll have 2-4 classrooms with demos that relate to physics and astronomy. Also many months (depending upon the availability of the space) we have our portable planetarium set up in Physician's Auditorium - which is connected to the first floor of RHSC. One of our professional astronomers will be running the show inside.
Up on the fourth floor of the building is where the astronomy observations take place. Depending on the night, different objects will be available to view. Just ask any of the volunteers upstairs and they can tell you what we're looking at that evening. The Observatory itself is a permanently mounted 16 inch reflector housed in our dome on the roof of the building. There's limited space in there - a control room is placed below the actual observing dome with a narrow circular stairway between. Only about 10 people can fit in the observing area or control room at a time. This is the activity which has the longest wait time. The Observatory was built with research in mind, not tours unfortunately. But if you are patient, we make sure everyone gets a chance to look through the telescope. Generally another of our astronomers is down in the control room with a senior astrophysics major running the telescope above.
Also on the 4th floor is access to our observing deck where we have 3 or 4 8 inch reflecting telescopes set up, manned by astronomers from the department. We don't allow the public to move the telescopes themselves, but if you have any questions or problems, just ask one of the astronomers. For safety sake we only allow ~50 people of the roof deck at one time, so there may be a short wait here too. Again we appreciate your patience.
Lastly, what do we do if its cloudy (or worse)? Weather is the bane of many astronomers existence because we can't see through clouds and on those nights we will not observe. But because of the difficulty of organizing our volunteers, we don't postpone our Open Houses - they are rain or shine. Our activities on the first floor will still be going on, and you are welcome to come out anyway.
Hopefully this answers some of the questions you have. A first-rate video about our open houses was made by Geoff Marshall of "TheDigitelCharleston". You can watch it at charleston.thedigitel.com/promoted/seeing-stars-2984-0211. We post updates more frequently on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/CofCObservatory
Dr. Laura Penny
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
College of Charleston
Charleston, SC 29424
email: firstname.lastname@example.org ........ phone: 843-953-8290 ........ fax: 843-953-4824