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Doug Clowe poses for a portrait on October 27, 2017. (FILE)

Free telescope viewing at The Ridges will be offered to the public

Several nights a month, students and families are welcome to head up to The Ridges for Telescope Nights, during which they are given the opportunity to see what outer space has to offer up close and personal.

The telescope used during Telescope Nights, which has been in the university’s possession since 1950, is used primarily to view the planets and moons, providing educational outreach to anyone who chooses to use it.

Other things that aren’t planets are also viewable through the telescope, but to Doug Clowe, an astronomy professor, stars on their own aren’t the most interesting things to look at.

“The telescope is designed to look at planets; it has the perfect magnification for it,” Clowe said. “You get to see all the planet’s moons, too. It’s quite nice.”

Telescope Nights are held at the Ohio University Observatory located at The Ridges on the Athens campus. The first viewing of the semester will be Friday at 8 p.m. Telescope Nights are free and open to the public.

The event usually draws 50 to 100 people who come and go throughout the night and wander among the main telescope and several smaller backyard telescopes.

“We usually look at four things during the course of a night,” Clowe said. “The first time someone sees Saturn, you can always tell when it’s their first time because they’re sitting there stunned staring at it.”

Outer space has always interested Chris Neeld, a sophomore studying psychology, because he thinks it’s amazing there are other things out there that we haven’t studied very much about.

Neeld specifically would want to see the rings of Saturn up close.

“It’d be pretty dope to look at other planets,” Neeld said. “Space telescopes aren’t cheap and I think trying to buy a good one would be hard to do, so I’d definitely take advantage of the one at The Ridges and check out the satellites and all the planets.”

Other than the main attraction — the planets — the telescopes used have also been able to pick up lunar craters, star clusters, distant galaxies and the neighboring Andromeda Galaxy.

Ryan Chornock, an assistant astronomy professor, finds Earth’s moon something to marvel at.

“If people get there early enough, they’ll be able to capture what the crescent moon looks like,” Chornock said. “There’s a lot of different shadows the moon projects and you get a real sense that the moon is a sphere with a typography, and that’s quite spectacular.”

To Chornock, the weirdest things that happen in nature occur in space.

“When you look at the planets, you can really see they’re evolved out there,” Chornock said. “They have their own weather, you can see stuff on its surface, and it all just comes alive and makes it all more concrete that they are actually out there.”

The main telescope used for this event was out of commission for nearly 10 years until it was refurbished and relocated to The Ridges in May 2017. It’s now used regularly by the Astronomy 1400 observing course, but almost every month, it’s open to the general public for two nights.

“(The telescope) looks like the cartoon version you’d see on the TV,” Clowe said. “It’s this big, long massive thing, but it’s as good now as it was then and gets the job done.”

Clowe joked about finding an alumnus with a few thousand dollars lying around who might want to donate to the astronomy program and buy a more modern telescope to accompany the current one.

“It’s be great to build a modern telescope that can see fainter things and more color,” Clowe said. “It’d give us a whole new range of stuff to do.”

Despite the telescope’s age, it has still given many students, families and Athens residents an experience like no other and will continue to this upcoming fall season.

“I’ve always been fascinated by outer space, I mean, what is all that stuff up there?” Clowe said. “It really does look like this vivid photograph through the telescope, and if you haven’t looked through one, you definitely should.”


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