Sep 262005
 
Authors: Anne Farrell

"If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare," said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Although stars appear every night, on Tuesdays the Madison McDonald Observatory opens to the public, giving CSU students a chance to marvel at the heavens from a new perspective.

Led by physics and astronomy professor Roger Culver, students look through a 16-foot reflecting Cassegrain Optical System to observe the night sky. On average, 20 to 25 people attend the sessions.

Reflecting telescopes, such as the one in the observatory, use mirrors to collect and magnify light. Light collects initially in a concave mirror where it is reflected into a convex secondary mirror, creating the magnification.

The most interesting sight Culver has seen through the telescope is when fragments from the Shoemaker-Levy Nine comet hit Jupiter in July 1994. Dark impact spots could be seen, he said.

Those who attend look at the moon and various other planets, Culver said. Currently Mars is getting closer to Earth and will be its closest at the end of October and early November.

In 2003, Mars was the closest to the Earth it had been in more than 66,000 years, reaching a bare 35.5 million miles away when it is normally 64 million. It will not be this close in November.

Erin Daniels, a junior history education major , said her favorite planet is, "Saturn, because it's unique with its rings and how big it is."

The observatory itself is an entity of the CSU physics department and is used by a number of classes in varying departments across campus.

Culver said the best part of instructing the observatory is, "to see the enthusiasm (from the students) because a lot of these kids have never seen this stuff before."

The observatory is located on East Drive, south of the Natural and Environmental Sciences building and north of the Insectary building. Tuesday nights are open to the public from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and are free of charge.

"I like wondering what's out there," said Blair Kiefer, sophomore psychology major , "Discovering the possibilities. Stargazing is a peaceful feeling."

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