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Astronomy Night showcases telescope

Regina Gilmour | Tuesday, October 4, 2011

As darkness fell over campus Monday night, sophomore Patrick Whalen stared at a perfect image of the face of the moon.

Whalen joined nearly 100 other students for Astronomy Night on the roof of Nieuwland Hall as they gazed through the recently refurbished Napoleon Telescope.

“I could see a clear image of the moon,” Whalen said. “It was cool because I could see all the craters in sharp detail.”

Physics Professor Peter Garnavich said the Napoleon Telescope was a gift to the University from Napoleon in 1866. The telescope was originally located in the Main Building, but is now housed in the Nieuwland Observatory

Garnavich said the original six-inch objective lens remains on the telescope, but the exterior has been refurbished in recent years.

“It used to be in a roll-off roof observatory, but it was falling apart,” Garnavich said. “We decided we needed a new dome to protect the Napoleon Telescope.”

A new power dome covers the outside of telescope in Nieuwland, Garnavich said.

“Because of water damage, the physics shop cleaned up the rust and made sure all the parts were working,” he said.

Students at Astronomy Night could gaze at the moon through the telescope in the Nieuwland Observatory, but others stared at its face from several smaller telescopes on North Quad near Stonehenge.

Seniors Maureen Choman and Elizabeth Flood said they were excited to catch a more detailed glimpse of the night sky.

“We ran from Lewis,” Flood said.

Choman said the girls had planned to see the telescope before they graduate.

“They have it every year, and it’s on our bucket list,” Choman said.

Law student Colin Littlefield showed students an image of a supernova, or a recently exploded star, on his computer.

“This supernova is about 25 million light years away,” he said. “It exploded about five weeks ago.”

Littlefield said he studied astronomy before attending law school, and he is now a teaching assistant for Introduction to Astronomy. The supernova is located in the M101 galaxy, a spiral galaxy not unlike the Milky Way.

“This particular supernova was part of a star not much bigger than Earth,” he said. “It kept pulling matter off a smaller star until it got so heavy it finally exploded. The supernova is expanding at about 30 million miles an hour.”

Junior Bailey Moser, a physics lab assistant, said students could access telescopes at other times of the year as well.

“They are always set up in the observatory,” he said. “Anyone can come up after sundown on a clear night.”