Observatory open house nights run by trained student-faculty

Throughout the year, Valpo’s Physics and Astronomy department hosts open house nights on Friday nights inviting members of the community to visit and learn, experiencing the campus’ observatory.

Located behind the Gellerson Engineering and Mathematics building and next to the faculty parking lot, the campus observatory was built for the university’s use in the early 1900s.

Today, it’s controlled and utilized by the physics and astronomy department based in Neils Science Center and is operated by a number of student-faculty: Olivia Krugman, Andrew Paxson, Maggie Bliese, Carla Espinoza, Matthew Bremer and Tim Bimler. 

The observatory utilizes a $500,000 large 16-inch computer-controlled reflecting telescope. The computer that houses the necessary software feeds information into the telescope, commanding its movements and turning it to view stars, planets or galaxy clusters. The telescope uses a mirror that reflects light to the lens of the telescope to make the images accessible to the human eye.  

“It’s pretty cool,” Krugman said.  

The observatory is used by the physics and astronomy department’s professors and students to conduct summer research, offering work and hands-on professional training to interested physics and astronomy majors. Those who choose to stay over the summer have the opportunity to use the observatory for a specific chosen research topic to gain knowledge on things such as radio waves in astronomy, planetary nebulae and universal expansion. 

“[Working in the observatory] reinforces what you learned,” Paxson said. “It’s a good way to get hands-on experience.”

“It has helped me with my people skills,” added Krugman. When working in the school observatory, students get a chance to engage with their peers and develop social skills as they work to educate those who come to open house

The observatory is used for community outreach for the campus and throughout the semester, the department has numerous open house nights.

“We run the telescope for the open house for the community,” Paxson said. 

The observatory is always open to those who want to broaden their knowledge of the universe. It’s a good way to experience a field of study and see if you might be interested. Regardless, the Valpo observatory is available for anyone interested. 

On Monday Nov. 11, Mercury will transit across the sun in the early hours of the day. Telescopic viewing will be hosted at the Observatory from 9-11 a.m., weather permitting.

As one of the smallest planets in our solar system, and also the closest star to our star, Mercury occasionally crosses in front of the sun's bright disk. This last happened in 2006, but after this upcoming transit, it will be a 13 year wait to see Mercury passing between Earth and the sun.

In order to stay updated on the weather, you can call 219-464-5202.

More information can be found on the Valparaiso University website under the Physics and Astronomy department section. 


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