The University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Observatory Public Open House is open for business. The Astronomy Department held its first public sky-viewing event of the year on Saturday, April 9.
A steady stream of visitors arrived at the campus observatory on the warm, breezy night. Mild weather made for pleasant viewing at this first of the free public telescope viewing events that will last into fall.
Usually, the Richard D. Schwartz Observatory is used by astronomy students but one Saturday night a month, during warmer months, it is opened to the general public. The events are free.
The area around the observatory is kept dark, to make viewing sky objects easier, but red “photo safe” lights inside the observatory, visible through its open door, made finding the building simple. The observatory is located on North Campus, next to the Fine Arts Building and softball field.
“The Astronomy department usually hires one student, grad or otherwise, to run the observatory open house,” Madison Hayes, junior, astrophysics, said. Hayes is the student in charge this year.
The record spring snowfall on March 12 canceled the original first Observatory Open House. “There were clouds, so I was thinking we would have to reschedule. But then there was all that snow, so I knew it was canceled.” Hayes said.
About 35 people attended the first hour the observatory was open. There was a steady line of students, couples, young adults and parents with children.
Ryan Garnett and Michelle Hulshof had traveled from Cape Girardeau to visit the observatory. Garnett described himself as an astronomy fan.
“I’m a teacher and this is her gift to me, to bring me out here,” Garnett said. They also planned to visit the St. Louis Science Center’s planetarium.
“I teach history but I just like the stars and space,” Garnett said. “I have never been to anything like this before.” He was looking forward especially to seeing deep-space objects like the Beehive Cluster. “I am trying to keep the smile off my face,” he said.
The observatory was crowded as people lined up to look through the telescope. Another smaller telescope was set up outside the observatory.
“I’m taking astronomy and it’s for extra credit,” Kristin Williams, senior, psychology, said, on her reason for attending. Other students cited similar reasons but all said they were enjoying the experience.
“I’m taking an astronomy class. I thought I would check out the observatory,” Patrick Williams, sophomore, history, said. Caitlyn Graham, sophomore, psychology, is also taking astronomy. “It’s a nice night, you know. I just got off work, didn’t have anything else to do so might as well come see some cool stuff.”
Justin Collins, a graduate student in art education, brought his family, including baby in a stroller. “I have always been interested in outer space and I have never looked out of telescope before. For one of this size, I just had to do it,” he said.
The first object on view was the first-phase moon, something every Open House includes.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Garnett said, after first viewing the moon through the telescope. “It is better than binoculars, that’s what I usually use. That’s my observatory, my deck and binoculars. This is up-close-and-personal.”
“It was much more detail than I thought it would be,” Williams said.
Other celestial objects viewed included Saturn’s rings and moons, a binary star in the Big Dipper and a nebula located in the constellation Orion. The schedule for future Observatory Open Houses is found at the Astronomy department website.