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Observatory images

Calvin Observatory

Welcome (to our website)!

Observatory schedule: The observatory is closed to visitors indefinitely. Please note the "May highlights" textbox to the right featuring cool things that can be seen without a telescope. Also, keep an eye for updates to this webpage. We continue to take observations with our robotic observatory in New Mexico and will be featuring some of these images here. The next one we are working on is Wolf 359, the nearest star visible in the northern hemisphere. We imaged this star on April 23, simultaneous with imaging by the New Horizons spacecraft out beyond Pluto. When the spacecraft image is released we will be able to directly see the parallax to this near neighbor.


April 2019: Calvin physics and astronomy student Michaela Blain was awarded a Barry Goldwater Scholarship. This continues a long record of Calvin astronomy students winning this prestigious scholarship (Chris Beaumont 2006 [honorable mention], Melissa Haegert 2008, Luke Leisman 2009). Additionally two other Calvin physics major have been awarded honorable mention (Jacob Lampen 2013 and Jackson Ross 2018).


September 2018: The art galleries of Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, and the Holland Museum had a special exhibit entitled "Mars: Astronomy and Culture". Follow the links for program details.

January 2018: The Science Channel has broadcast an episode of their popular level documentary series "How the Universe Works" on the topic of binary star systems. It features the discovery by Calvin Prof. Larry Molnar and a number of Calvin students that a particular contact binary star system, named KIC 9832227, may be in the process of merging and exploding. The episode can be streamed online for free.

January 2018: A paper has just been published by a team including Calvin professor Larry Molnar and Calvin students Michaela Blain, Evan Cook, and Kenton Green about brightness variation in the star KIC 8462852, commonly known as Tabby's star. The Kepler satellite showed mysterious dips in brightness from this star on several occasions over its four-year survey. The new results show the dips are wavelength-dependent: more blue light is lost than red. This result is consistent with dust along the line of sight (the origin of which remains a mystery) but rules out solid objects (such as alien megastructures, which would show wavelength independent dimming). This conclusion was long awaited and received wide media attention. Examples include The Washington Post, Sky and Telescope, and National Geographic.

November 4, 2017: Asteroid 375005 Newsome, a Hungaria asteroid discovered in 2007 by Melissa (Haegert) Dykhuis (class of 2010), has been named in honor of Deb Newsome.

Pizza animation.

Media coverage related to the Red Nova prediction.

KIC 9832227

June 30, 2016: The Spring 2016 class of Astronomy 211 did an astrophotography project, with each of the 19 students imaging their own chosen target.

June 22, 2016: The Spring 2016 class of Astronomy 211 did a variable star discovery project, yielding seven previously undiscovered stars. These have now been entered in the International Variable Star Index, with our class given credit as discoverers.

May 9, 2016: Mercury passed in front of the Sun for the first time in 10 years. Despite an ominous weather forecast, we were able to see the transit event clearly through our main telescope (in visible light) and our solar telescope (in hydrogen alpha red light) from 8:20 am until about 2:40 pm when the last piece of Mercury cleared the Sun. Nearly 150 people stopped in to enjoy the view through the course of the day. Mercury last transited the Sun in 2006.

December 2015: A YouTube video of Jupiter by Nathan McReynolds was posted. See the orbit of the Galilean satellites and the rotation of the planet over the course of one evening as seen from our Grand Rapids telescope.

October 15, 2015: Over 200 people came to hear Calvin alumnus Dr. Thomas Strikwerda make a public presentation entitled Direct from Pluto, cohosted by the Physics and Astronomy Department and the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association.

September 27, 2015: The Calvin observatory held a special open house for the total lunar eclipse. See lowlights (clouds) and highlights at our lunar eclipse page.

September, 2015: The Spring Astronomy 212 class web pages (based on images they obtained with the Calvin Observatory) have been posted.

April, 2014: This semester's Astronomy 211 class discovered a new variable star: V1927+4538.

February, 2014: This semester's Physics 134 class has discovered eight uncatalogued asteroids. They now have the provisional designations 2014 DY20, DB21, DC21, DH21, EE1, EF1, EG1, and EH1.

January, 2013 Ten Calvin students and Professor Molnar are in the American Southwest for a three week course "Astronomy in the Southwest". Read about their adventures in their daily web log.

December 19, 2012: See the images taken by introductory astronomy students this semester with our Rehoboth, New Mexico telescope.

August 29, 2012: Five variable stars discovered in the Spring 2012 class Astronomy 211 (Planetary and Stellar Astronomy) are credited to Calvin students as new discoveries.

March 20, 2012: Two Calvin students have received grants from the Michigan Space Grant Consortium to pursue summer research in astronomy. See news article on the main Calvin page.

November 10, 2011: Four more asteroids received permanent designations, bringing to 105 the number of asteroids with discovery credit given to the Calvin observatory.

September 6, 2011:A type IA supernova has gone off in the nearby Pinwheel galaxy (M101). Compare the picture below (taken September 4) with one taken before the explosion

M101 with supernova

December 20, 2010: Asteroid (596) Scheila has had an outburst, sprouting a tail, and becoming much brighter! Observations with the Calvin-Rehoboth telescope indicate the enhanced brightness is due to a new coating on the asteroid surface. See details here.

November 28, 2010: Asteroid 2008 SG12 received the name Jackuipers!

March 21, 2011: Asteroids 2005 YO, 2008 DU4, 2009 AF17, and 2009 WD25 received the permanent designations 268488, 269147, 269374, and 269554, respectively. This brings to 77 the asteroids discovered with the Calvin College Observatory to receive such a designation! See the full list of discoveries.

Campers in the first Calvin Astronomy Summer Camp discovered six new variable stars! For details on the scientific discoveries made in this science summer camp, click here.

At 7 pm on February 17, Calvin hosted a special presentation on Benjamin Banneker, the first African-American scientist. See the details in the event flyer.

A class of Calvin students set off for the American Southwest in January for a three week course "Astronomy in the Southwest". Relive the adventure through their daily web log.

Observatory Director: Prof. Larry Molnar 616-526-6341
Telescope Dome on campus: 616-526-6435


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May highlights

While viewing through our telescope is unavailable for now, May offers some great sights for viewing with the unaided eye. The planet Venus is the brilliant point of light that has dominated western sky the past several months. May is your last chance to enjoy it before it dives below the Sun to become the morning star for a while. And on the way down it will provide a rare opportunity to view the planet Mercury. Thirty minutes past sunset on May 21 Venus will be just 10 degrees above the western horizon yet bright enough to be easily seen. Look just one degree below it to find shy Mercury! Binoculars may help, with Venus making it easy to find.

The Big Dipper is nearly overhead. You can use the two stars at the end of the "bowl" as pointers to find Polaris, the North Star, which is below the Big Dipper. And you can test your visual acuity by looking closely at the star in the middle of the handle. Those with sharp eyes will notice it is actually a double star. The brighter one is Mizar and its companion is Alcor.

Great Cluster in Hercules

For those with binoculars, look for the Great Cluster in Hercules (Number 13 in the Messier list). We show here the view through our telescope. In binoculars the individual stars will not be resolved so it will appear as a nebulous smudge.