Zooming into Hands-On Astronomy; University Telescopes Focus Stars for All Levels of Observers

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Zooming into Hands-On Astronomy; University Telescopes Focus Stars for All Levels of Observers


Byline: Shelley Widhalm, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

With a push of a few buttons, astronomy professor Harold Geller opens the shutter on George Mason University's newly built observatory to reveal the daytime sky.

Mr. Geller, observatory director, stands atop a 6-foot concrete structure waiting out the two minutes for the shutter to open. He hits a command sequence on a remote-control device to drop open the trapdoor and lengthen the aperture.

Where Mr. Geller stands, a 34-inch-diameter telescope will be installed after the components are custom-built and the telescope is assembled; that is estimated to be finished sometime in 2008. The telescope is refractive, meaning it uses mirrors to reflect light, electromagnetic radiation from the sky to create an image, and lenses to bend, or refract, the light to focus the image for observation.

"You just get a reaction of oohs and aahs when the dome opens," says Mr. Geller, associate chairman of the physics and astronomy department for the university's main campus, in Fairfax.

The dome, which will protect the telescope from the elements, can be rotated 360 degrees to locate the 75-inch-wide curved opening anywhere on the axis, Mr. Geller says. The dome and shutter, both made of galvanized steel, are controlled by motors and can be closed manually in case of power failure, he says.

The observatory is a teaching tool for college astronomy and visiting science classes from kindergarten through 12th grade and also a public resource during open observing sessions every other Thursday night.

The University of Maryland in College Park and Georgetown University also have observatories for classroom and public use; George Washington University and Howard University have telescopes for classroom use but do not have observatories to house them.

"It just makes a dramatic difference for students to get out of the lecture hall and see the stars through a telescope," says Stephen Maran, spokesman for the American Astronomical Society, a national organization of professional astronomers based in Northwest. He holds a doctorate in astronomy and is a retired astronomer for NASA. He is author of "Astronomy for Dummies."

"It's the difference of having a professor telling you something from a book and actually seeing it for yourself," Mr. Maran says.

The George Mason University observatory is housed in the fifth story of a tower connected to the new Research I building, which, of course, is dedicated to research. The campus's first observatory was built in 1975, then torn down for construction of the Field House. Its replacement was vandalized and put out of operation in 1980, creating the need for a new facility.

Construction on Research I began in 2004. The tower is estimated to cost $1 million, the observatory another $500,000 and the telescope $300,000, Mr. Geller says.

"It's always a good sign when a college adds an observatory," Mr. Maran says. "There's a trend now to shut them down because of the expense of operating them. This is good news."

The observatory opened in January, to Mr. Geller's relief. The new facility means that he will not have to drag out and set up any of the smaller 6-inch, 8-inch, 12-inch, and 16-inch telescopes for observation sessions. Eventually, the 12-inch and 16-inch telescopes will be installed on three piers on the veranda of the observatory.

"We want to provide the same tools researchers use in the field and give [students] a flavor of how to control the best telescopes," Mr.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Zooming into Hands-On Astronomy; University Telescopes Focus Stars for All Levels of Observers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?