Astronomy festival will explore heavens this weekend at College Park


If you've ever wanted to ask an astronomer to explain black holes, or the big bang, or to tell you why looking out into space is the same as looking back in time, get to College Park this weekend.

The University of Maryland is host to "Universe '95," a two-day national astronomy festival designed mostly for amateur astronomers, backyard stargazers and people who are just plain curious.

Among the attractions:

* An "Ask the Astronomer" exhibit. Astronomers from the staff of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore will answer questions about the Hubble Space Telescope and the cosmos.

* More than 50 vendors and exhibitors, offering telescopes, computer software, posters and books.

* Public lectures by more than 30 nationally known astronomers on topics from the habitability of planets beyond our solar system, to the hazards posed to Earth by small asteroids and comets and the future of the U.S. space program.

* A star party tomorrow night, weather permitting.

A panel discussion is set for 4 p.m. tomorrow on MACHOS, WIMPS and other mysteries of the missing "dark matter," which, if astronomers ever find it, could tell us the fate of the universe.

Some of the top names in the study of cosmology -- the origins of the universe -- have been invited to join the panel, including Marc Postman of the space institute and Princeton University's John Bahcall.

The weekend is sponsored by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and Astronomy magazine. General admission for both days is $30, with discounts for students, seniors and those who attend just one day.

Scientific and education symposiums also are scheduled at costs as high as $185. The event begins at 8:30 a.m. each day, at the Inn and Conference Center on the College Park campus.

Information: (301) 405-4627 or, on the weekend, (301) 985-7000.

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