Observatory Ready for Use
It was talked about for more than 10 years at IU South Bend. Once the wheels began to move, there were various stops and starts. When a proposal was submitted, there was a surge of activity but that was two years ago. Now it has been built, the equipment is in place and waiting for a clear night. The first week of November did not cooperating.
Then a clear night came and there was great excitement.
An observatory and telescope are now a fixture atop Northside Hall. The 12 ½ diameter by 13 foot tall observatory, which is on the roof on the southwest corner of the building, was fabricated off site and rebuilt. It was finished in September.
The telescope, which has a 16-inch diameter mirror, was mounted the first week in November.
Jerry Hinnefeld, professor of physics and astronomy at IU South Bend, said he and the rest of the department were waiting for a clear night to take advantage their new teaching tool.
His goal is to have students using it possibly by the end of the semester and certainly in the spring semester.
He would like to have trained physics and astronomy students using the telescope every clear night. There will also be a chance to do community outreach” for astronomical events, such as comets, he said.
The dome will hold four to six people.
“It was a long time in coming,” he said. About two years ago, when there was a call for one-time money (for projects and proposals), we asked for a nice telescope, a robotic mount and a domed building,” The project cost was $110,000, with $70,000 coming from an internal grant.
Elizabeth Dunn, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, provided $40,000 from laboratory renovation funds. IU South Bend then worked with the IU Bloomington architecture office to secure a solid location on the building to reduce vibration.
As it was constructed, there was a wave of excitement in physics and astronomy. There were announcements on Facebook and in the student newspaper, The Preface, Hinnefeld said. He added that he was looking forward to seeing the dome as he rode his bicycle into work. Then one day he caught sight of it as he rode on Hildreth Street.
A brief demonstration of how the dome works brought a smile to the professor’s face and he waxed nostalgically about college years. “I remember getting my first telescope in middle school and seeing the rings of Saturn… and working as a student in the observatory at Hanover College. Hearing the dome shutter open and seeing a field of stars appear is a fond memory,” he said.
Hinnefeld will be teaching a science seminar class for the Master of Liberal Arts program in the spring which will use the observatory for classroom work.
Depending on eyepiece, the magnification could be up to 1,000 times. “We’ll have some nice views of Saturn and Jupiter, some nebula, some galaxies.”
The short tour came to an end. He closed to shutter door, turn out the light and closed up shop.
A clear night came a few days later and a group headed for the roof. “Besides a bright star (Altair) to align the mount, we observed the moon, a globular cluster, a couple of open star clusters, and the Ring Nebula. Department colleagues who spent parts of Saturday evening observing with me were Henry Scott, Rolf Schimmigk, and Monika Lynker,” Hinnefeld said.