Exploring space from GC
Students will be able to spy on Earth’s celestial neighbors through the telescope at the Pohl Observatory atop Herty Hall this Friday, Nov. 9 from 7 to 9 p.m.
The telescope is trained on one celestial object for each observatory night, and often planets within our solar system are the focus of attention.
The telescope used was purchased in 2011 and has a 24-inch diameter, allowing the viewer to see dimmer objects, such as galaxies and nebulae, with greater clarity than the naked eye provides.
“Things don’t float out in front of you on Earth, but they do [in space],” said Donovan Domingue, an astronomy and physics professor who leads observatory nights. “[A planet] visibly has a shape to it, and sometimes people feel they could reach out and grab it.”
Open observatory nights are hosted once a month during the academic year on a Friday, during
a time in the lunar phase when there is a new or crescent moon creating less light pollution in the night sky.
The planetarium on the first floor of Herty will open at 6 p.m. to allow visitors to learn about what they will see in the sky before heading up to the fourth oor planetarium.
“People don’t have that real connection to a star,” Domingue said. “It seems like just a faraway light. Something like Saturn or even Jupiter makes [people] feel different.”
Visitors are encouraged to ask questions about what they are going to see or about space in general.
“I enjoy explaining how the telescope works and answering questions about space,” said senior Robert Andrews, a physics major.
Andrews has worked seven observatory nights and is responsible for positioning the telescope toward the desired celestial object as it moves across the night sky throughout the evening.
As the evening wears on, the line often goes out the door of the observatory, and visitors go inside in
small groups, so each person has a chance to look through the telescope.
When visitors walk into the observatory, they first pass through the control room, where monitors display what features are in the night sky at that time.
“[The view] was definitely worth the wait, and the whole time in line everyone was really excited,” said sophomore Becca Fallon, a creative writing major who attended an observatory night last year. “Even though there were a lot of people, the line moved quickly.”
The camaraderie between visitors forms from a shared excitement and curiosity, a feeling that those organizing the event are familiar with themselves.
“I think the vastness of the universe around us is extremely interesting,” Domingue said. “It just gives us a perspective on where the Earth and life ts in to the whole universe.”
In the observatory itself, red lights are illuminated around the room in order to preserve night vision, allowing a clearer view of the dim objects in the telescope.
Visitors climb up a few stairs to the telescope, and the observatory is equipped to allow access for those unable to climb the stairs.
“Any planets that you look at through the telescope won’t look like it does on a picture,” Andrews said.
Domingue said this phenomenon occurs because the colors appear bright against the stark
contrast of the solid black void of space.
Experiencing something billions of miles away so closely is a testament to modern science and is accessible to GC students for free.