For most, the first image that comes to mind when thinking of a telescope is a long, gold tube with a lens at one end and a viewing piece at the other. The new technology on the all-new astronomy terrace of the Leach Science Centercouldn’t be further from that idea.
Sitting squarely on the terrace is a squat metal cylinder mounted on a large base, equipped with a heavy counterweight and a second, smaller viewing telescope that is used to track smaller objects across the sky.
Melissa Halford, physics lecturer, picks up a controller and punches in the location of Jupiter. The telescope promptly begins to move, whirring quietly as it responds to Halford’s request, stopping at the rough coordinates of the gas giant in the sky, a much more precise process for students than the telescopes of old.
“In the past, the students would have to pull them out of the astronomy resource room, set them up on the lawn, align them and do all of that,” Halford said of the more traditional telescopes.
Over the summer, the physics department was consolidated in the Leach Science Center and its $24 million extension. The extension included a group study area, nine new labs and the 18 telescopes on the terrace.
These brand new 10-inch telescopes can be stored outside on the terrace under a weatherproof covering, thereby eliminating the long and tedious set-up process that students in an astronomy course had to go through in the past.
Eighteen of these telescopes were purchased for the astronomy terrace, and each telescope is linked to a desktop computer in a classroom on the third floor of the Leach Science Center, where students can autonomously process and analyze images coming in from the telescopes on the terrace.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
The telescopes also have an adjustable camera attached that can take both color and monochrome images of distant celestial objects. The monochrome images can quantitatively determine the color of the celestial objects, allowing Halford and her students to take rough estimates of the temperature or age of the stars.
At the moment, there is only one astronomy class offered at Auburn, PHYS 1150, but the faculty hopes that the new terrace can bring more excitement and attention to astronomy at Auburn and hopefully attract more students.
“Right now, [there] is only about 30 students a semester who are taking the class, but we definitely have the capacity to do more and to maybe offer other courses in the future,” Halford said.
For instructors in the physics department, the astronomy course offers students tangible, real-world knowledge that can be taken with them after the conclusion of the course, and the new telescopes are necessary tools.
“It is critical that students who take an astronomy class have access to high-quality equipment that is capable of imaging distant objects in high resolution,” said Trevor Olson, a graduate student at Auburn and a teaching assistant for the laboratory section of the astronomy class.
Halford and her team are hopeful that the terrace will be open to the public soon, as she thinks it could be a great place to host gatherings or viewing parties for celestial events.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman