An evening with the stars

Students, public enjoy observatory access

April 5, 2010
by Jamie Santiago | Staff Writer

While the City College observatory, located on top of Rodda Hall South, primarily serves as a resource to students in astronomy labs, the facility will be open April 9 to the public.

According to astronomy professor Douglas Copely, the observatory adds value to the City College community because it aids in astronomy students’ learning, while also capturing the fascination of people.

“It’s a nice opportunity to look through a very sophisticated telescope and use the resources on campus,” Copely said. “It’s quite impressive for the school that we have it, being a community college and not a university. It’s a unique opportunity for us.”

The observatory contains a large deck where students can set up telescopes, a set of small telescopes used in labs, and a main observatory telescope, which is the primary observing instrument.
According to astronomy professor and observatory coordinator Liam McDaid, the facility is a key component in educating students.

“I mean, there’s nothing more boring that I can think of than taking an astronomy lab and never going outside,” McDaid said. “It would be insufferably boring.”

City College has had an observatory almost from the college’s inception, but the present facility was built in 1976. In 2001, a new telescope replaced the outdated technology. McDaid says the new telescope is much easier to work with and can also take high quality digital pictures.

According to McDaid, clear weather conditions are necessary for optimum viewing in the observatory.
Although the air pollution in Sacramento is a bit problematic for telescope viewing, Copely said they use CCD cameras — high-powered digital cameras used specifically for photographing celestial bodies — to stack images and remove noise, which help make the images clearer. He says there is still an opportunity to do-top notch observations.

“So what we can see are bright objects — the moon, planets, brighter groups of stars, brighter nebula, and the brighter galaxies,” McDaid said.

In spite of the light pollution, McDaid said he can show people in the observatory nearly a dozen galaxies, a dozen nebula and the planets.

“The observatory is awesome,” said astronomy student and business major Eric Mills. “I mean, just the fact that we have one is cool.”

The observatory is open to the public every first Friday of the month except January and the summer months.


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