Observatory Corner

Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, this $80,000 device is made available to you four days a week if the sky is clear. Photo by Christian Bell
Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, this $80,000 device is made available to you four days a week if the sky is clear. Photo by Christian Bell

Maybe in your campus wanderings you’ve seen the big white bump on top of the Science Building. One of the highest places on campus, this is the Calvin Observatory, where the Physics and Astronomy department operates a 16-inch diameter, computer-controlled telescope. Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, this $80,000 device is made available to you four days a week if the sky is clear. A few astronomy students will be on duty each night to operate the telescope and show you the stellar sights. While peering through the telescope, you can feel smugly superior: It’s a good deal bigger than Hope’s telescope.

Those of us in the astronomy department would love to match the bright, colorful views in NASA’s famous pictures, but the administration would say something about money if we proposed launching a telescope into orbit. Even stuck on the ground, though, a visit to the observatory is worthwhile. Besides seeing and learning about things you’ve maybe never even thought about before, the observatory provides the more personal experience of seeing the actual light from a distant galaxy, of revealing a nebula hidden within an apparently empty piece of sky, of looking farther than you ever have before.

As the seasons change and the earth makes its way around the sun, new sights will come into view while old ones slide away. At the moment, an observatory visit won’t be complete without seeing a nebula, a star cluster, a galaxy, and a colorful star or two. Later this month the Moon will be an amazing sight, although in a world of tradeoffs, it will light up the sky and make it harder to see the fainter objects. By the end of this semester, Jupiter will be dominating the sky every evening. This Chimes column will make appearances throughout the year to keep you informed on the latest exciting sights.

Calvin’s observatory (accessible via the Science Building staircase nearest to North Hall) is open to the Calvin community clear nights Monday through Thursday, with the general public also invited on Wednesday, from 7:30 p.m. or half an hour past sunset (whichever is later) until 11 p.m. Student observers are on duty to operate the telescope and show you the sights. For the latest information, visit calvin.edu/observatory.

Sunset times for September 7-13: 8:07-7:55 p.m.

Comments