Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Staff Council

Observe Heavenly Bodies for Free

Posted on November 2, 2012

You may have heard that we have telescopes at the College but did you know that you are free to gaze through them?

Wheaton has about 10 telescopes that vary in size and capability, all located on the top floor Observatory of the new Mars Center for Science and Technology. The equipment was acquired through various grants and also by purchases by the Physics and Astronomy department.

I act as faculty technology Liaison for the Sciences and provide engineering and technical support for the telescopes in addition to co-teaching the Astronomy courses with Professor Tim Barker. I was here last year when the telescopes were moved from the old science center Observatory deck to offer a better vantage point for observation of the night skies. You may have noticed the domes on the top of the Mars Center—there are 7 of them and some of the telescopes live within them. The domes open by computer control to expose the telescopes as needed for astronomical imaging by Astronomy students and for research. When not imaging the heavens, these instruments are protected by their dome cocoons.

For public observing, the new observatory is host to multiple telescopes on the new Observing deck. Some are permanently installed, aligned and calibrated, and others are set up expressly for Friday Open Observatory nights. An example of a permanently installed telescope is the fourteen inch Schmidt Cassegrain instrument that is installed on a Paramount German equatorial mount. This instrument tracks stars and planets accurately and is even accurate enough for satellite tracking, which is unique to colleges such as Wheaton. Smaller telescopes brought out for each public observing night range from four and a half inches in diameter to eleven-inch instruments. Each is uniquely suited to observing specific objects in the sky.

The observatory is open to the Wheaton community as well as to the public. Throughout this semester, there are Friday open viewing nights when you can see various planets and stars. Depending on the night, you can get a close up view of our Moon or of the planet Jupiter and its orbiting moons. Observers meet in the old science center’s Hindle auditorium for a slide show describing what you’ll see that night before proceeding to the new observatory. Wheaton staff and trained students will be there to assist you and answer your questions. If you’d like to attend, please check the web site below to be sure that there has not been a cancellation due to weather.

Once you have seen the Moon and planets through a telescope, I guarantee you’ll never look at them the same way again!

Here is the schedule for open Fridays through December: http://wheatoncollege.edu/astronomy/observatory-open-nights/.

—Submitted by Gary Ahrendts

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