The College of Arts and Sciences hosted the grand re-opening of Ferris’ Rawlinson Observatory with a presentation by David DeBruyn, former director of the Chaffee Planetarium.
Students and community gathered for DeBruyn’s presentation, “Visual Astronomy: Inspiration for a Frantic World.” He spoke about using telescopes to view the universe, observatories in Michigan and the importance of scientific curiosity.
DeBruyn also advised students to use their technology sparingly and to enrich themselves by “looking up instead of looking down.”
The Rawlinson Observatory had been out of commision for nearly 5 years due to problems with its rotating dome. Rick Kurtz, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, allocated funding to begin repairs. Tom Melsheimer, an observatory builder from Ohio with decades of experience, was hired to repair the dome in 3 phases over a year.
“Upon arrival, we could see daylight through the seams of the dome,” Melsheimer said. “Birds had made nests and left messes.” Melsheimer estimates that he spent over 500 hours on the observatory.
Melsheimer has more work planned involving installation of cameras and computer software to modernize the observatory. Following DeBruyn’s 40 minute presentation, groups were brought up to the observatory for a demonstration by astronomy professor Thomas Brennan. Unfortunately, the weather prevented the group from viewing any stars, but Brennan marked his excitement about getting to know the observatory’s Unitron telescope.
“You really learn so much more about astronomy when you actually see it with your own eyes,” Brennan said. “You can see a picture in a magazine or on the internet, but it doesn’t have the same intellectual impact that it does when you see a planet through a telescope.”
Brennan plans to use the observatory with his astronomy classes for experiential learning. Plans are also being made to have public viewing nights for students and community members.
The Rawlinson Observatory is located in the Science Building, room 400.