Campus / News / April 17, 2019

Students find perspective in observatory



Senior Alex Fluegel sets up the telescope in the observatory on the SMC roof before the open hours that are hosted by Physics Club every Tuesday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting. (Rafael Cho/TKS)


From the SMC roof, students can look up at the stars and down at campus and Galesburg.

“You forget how the street lights fade into the distance, once you’ve got some height, it goes from being just one line of lights to a whole landscape,” senior BenLambert said.

The Knox Physics Club hosts open observatory hours every Tuesday. The events attract students who are eager to see the world from a different perspective like sophomores Lola Stam and Olly Kay and Lambert

“It’s really cool to see something you see all the time in great detail, like, the moon,” Kay said.

The events started when seniors Tom Trudeau and Peter Driscoll and Assistant Professor of Physics Nathalie Haurberg stayed over the summer to work on Knox’s telescope and decided they wanted to show off their work.

“A lot of people just don’t take much time in their life to look up, and you know, taking a break and going to a place where your whole purpose to be there is to look up,” Haurberg said.

If anything, Haurberg encourages students to go just to see the moon.

“It’s different, it feels more real, it looks more real, it is more real,” Haurberg said. “There’s something more three-dimensional about it, there’s something more just tactile about it, you feel like you could touch it.”

Nevertheless, Haurberg pointed to students Trudeau, sophomore Philip Griffin, and senior Alex Fluegel as the most essential part of the observatory hours.

Trudeau, Griffin and Fluegel spend their Tuesday nights in the observatory, aiming the telescope at different astronomical features for visitors to see. Some of the features shown depend on the time of the year and the darkness at the time. One object you’re guaranteed to see is Haurberg’s favorite, the moon. On April 16, the three leaders showed the moon, the star Sirius, the Orion Nebula and two types of star clusters.

Trudeau encouraged students to come just to hang out.

“It’s kinda nice to have something kind of fun and interesting to do at night that isn’t, like, ‘Let’s, like, have a party.’ It’s quite wholesome,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau, Griffin and Fluegel enjoy sharing their passion with other students and hope the observatory hours will help grow the astronomy program.

While Trudeau took a break from the events when during Winter Term, Griffin and Fluegel still spent their Tuesday nights at the observatory, working on software updates for the telescope. Even on days when campus was shut down because of cold temperatures, Griffin and Fluegel could be found in the observatory, upgrading and fine tuning software.

The telescope is a 10-inch reflecting telescope made by Meade. It is consumer grade but the department has upgraded many of the accessories to make it easier for viewings, like changing the mount and adding a rotating turret to change eyepieces.

“It’s what an astronomy enthusiast would have in their backyard É but we have upgraded many aspects of it,” Haurberg said.

One problem with the current set-up is accessibility. Currently, viewers must go through the SMC basement and then up the stairs. Once they get to the roof there is another set of metal stairs outside that leads to the platform with the observatory.

“You could be what would qualify as able-bodied and still have difficulty getting there in the sense that you have to duck through a small door, you have to climb up a lot of stairs É and fit into a relatively small space,” Haurberg said.

The problem is one they are aware of and hoping to address if the long-term plan of getting a larger observatory is achieved.

Tags:  astronomy observatory physics club planets SMC roof

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