Stargazers to access a new astronomy observatory at The Ridges come May

Kennedy Museum of Art at The Ridges. (File photo by Isaac Hale)

A new astronomy observatory could upgrade stargazing for Ohio University students.

The new observatory is scheduled to open in May 2017 at The Ridges.

The observatory will use a 10-inch refractor telescope with glass lenses from 1950. For some time, the telescope was mounted on top of the Research and Technology Center, before the roof was declared unsafe, and the telescope was removed 10 years ago.

Since the university was already in possession of the telescope, and the telescope was in good condition, it made sense to make use of it again, Doug Clowe, a physics and astronomy professor, said.

A dome is being constructed to house the telescope. The dome is scheduled to be completed by late December, allowing sufficient time to set up the telescope before the dedication ceremony in May.

Contractors are laying a concrete path near the water tower in The Ridges, formerly known as the Athens Mental Health Center, where the observatory will be. The location of the observatory is ideal for many reasons, including proximity to campus and lack of light pollution, Clowe said.

The project has a budget of $320,000. The investment is well worth the university’s money, Joe Shields, vice president for Research and Creative Activity, said.

“This is a long-term investment that will benefit students and the community for decades to come,” Shields, a physics and astronomy professor, said in an email. “Astronomy is unique in its ability to inspire people of all ages in thinking about our place in the universe. The observatory will significantly increase the opportunities for students and community members to directly connect with the cosmos.”

There are several ordinances in the Athens Code of Ordinances that require people to minimize light pollution.

“We wanted it to be in a relatively dark position,” Clowe, the director of OU’s Astrophysical Institute, said. “In that particular area in The Ridges, we have just enough trees around to shield us from the football field and lights around town but it’s close enough to parking. … It’ll be real easy to get to.”

The telescope is not very modern, Clowe said, which means that it will not really assist students studying astronomy because a camera cannot be attached, and data cannot be recorded. The observatory, however, could still be a stepping stone for the science department, he said.

“We’re hoping that through doing this, we might be able to find someone who could give us enough money to build a second dome and get a modern telescope we could put a camera on and do science with,” Clowe said.

A main goal of the observatory is to stimulate public interest, Clowe said.

“Most people have never seen Saturn through a telescope, and when they see it for the first time with their eyes and not on TV, it’s a pretty incredible experience,” Clowe said.

Clowe said he plans on inviting elementary school classes to the observatory once it opens.

In addition to public outreach, the observatory will play a role in some of the general education night-time observing classes. Currently, students enrolled in those classes have to drive out to a farm late at night. The observatory, Clowe said, will be more “convenient.”

Kevin Boyd, a freshman studying astrophysics, owns a telescope and said he is excited for the observatory to open. Although the telescope is not modern or “practical” compared to today’s technology, Boyd said he appreciates the historical context.

The observatory also provides a valuable learning opportunity and could lead to more students taking an interest in science, Boyd said.

“Science is the world of tomorrow,” he said. “Seeing the natural world for its beauty is extremely important. … For someone to actually see faraway stars through a telescope is a great moment for everyone to have, and it could change the path someone is on.”


Originally published for The Post on November 14, 2016.


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