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Public telescope night, starring OU’s astronomy department

Around once a month, the astronomy department hosts public telescope nights at the Observatory located by The Ridges. These nights are free to attend and anyone in the community is welcome. 

This weekend, the nights will be hosted on Friday and Saturday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting. About 50% of these viewing nights are canceled due to poor weather and viewing conditions.

These nights are usually scheduled around when the football team is playing at Peden Stadium to avoid the bright lights from the game.

The Observatory by The Ridges was opened in 2017 and is home to a ten-inch refracting telescope from the 1950s that is used for public viewing. The telescope was originally located on the roof of the Research and Technology Building but was later moved to the newer Observatory.

The telescope is used to look at planets, moons, nebulas, star clusters and more. This weekend, the main targets will be Jupiter, Saturn and possibly the moon. Earth will be right between Jupiter and the sun at its closest opposition since 1963.

Doug Clowe, an astronomy professor at Ohio University, thinks this is an experience people should take advantage of.

“If you’ve never seen through a telescope, this might be one of your few opportunities,” Clowe said. “Most cities in the U.S. right now it’s way too bright and you can’t see the night sky.”

The public viewing night provides a unique experience of seeing things in space that are typically only seen in textbooks for many people.

“Seeing what these things look like with your own eyes rather than a picture really is an experience for all people,” Clowe said.

Ryan Parkes, a sophomore studying astrophysics, said he feels the same way.

“It kind of puts things into perspective because all you ever see of Saturn and its rings is through images on your computer or your phone,” Parkes said. “Being able to see it with your own eyes is cool.”

Parkes is also the president of the new astronomy club at Ohio University and has attended the public telescope nights since his freshman year. He was surprised at the variety of people that would show up to these events.

“I was expecting only astrophysics majors that showed up, and there (were) two that showed up,” Parkes said. “There was a bunch of people from the area that were interested in that.”

This event is a great opportunity for the community to come together and learn more about astronomy and space.

“I have had a few people say that suddenly they became interested in science, particularly if we can get some of the middle school kids,” Clowe said.

George Eberts, an instructor of astronomy at OU, also enjoys the community aspect of these events and giving back to the community that helped provide the telescope.

“It’s a matter of sharing what we have with the people that paid for that telescope ultimately through taxes and tuition at OU,” Eberts said.

The astronomy department works to make this a memorable learning experience for the community to enjoy.

“It’s just magic when you’re in a big dome with the shutter and the aperture is open and a big telescope facing out and dim red lights around the room, some spacey music is playing — at least it does if I get there on time to set it up,” Eberts said.

Eberts said for attendees, the satisfaction rate is almost guaranteed.

“There’s always grins, there’s always exclamations about how cool this is.” Eberts said. “That’s the payoff for me.”

Whether studying science or not, many people find the subject of space to be fascinating. This event is a great opportunity to explore that fascination.

“Everybody loves astronomy,” Eberts said. “It’s a very sexy science.”


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