Central Michigan University’s astronomical observatory atop Brooks Hall provides a glimpse into a faraway world full of moons, planets, comets and stars.
Managed by the physics department, astronomy professors host open houses for the public to view celestial wonders throughout the year, with the next one scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3.
Brooks Hall Astronomical Observatory’s facilities contain two sections: a research and reference area and an observation area.
The research area contains several computers, a darkroom, and a library of more than 1,000 volumes of observatory publications, catalogues, charts and atlases.
The observation area includes an automatic retractable dome that protects a 16-inch (40.6-cm) Newtonian/Cassegrain telescope used by faculty members and nearly 150 students each semester as part of their astronomy studies. Manufactured by DFM Engineering, the $100,000 computer-controlled classical Cassegrain reflector can be pointed to any place in the sky for more sophisticated and advance viewing of celestial bodies with very high accuracy, and it also can be used for basic visual observations.
“When it comes to hands-on learning and being well prepared for careers in the field, this particular telescope in the observatory gives CMU astronomy students an advantage,” said Christopher Tycner, physics department chairperson. “It allows them to compete with students at larger universities with similar programs.”
Adjacent to the dome is an outdoor observation deck used for naked-eye or small-telescope viewing.
“Instructors will pull out the smaller telescopes and set them around the observation deck during labs,” said Glen Williams, astronomy professor in the physics department.
Observatory open houses are normally held once a month throughout the year, whether cloudy or clear, beginning in the fall semester. Contact the CMU physics department at 989-774-3321 for a complete schedule of dates and times or follow along on Twitter.
Constructed in 1964, Brooks Hall and the astronomical observatory located on its roof were named in honor of astronomy professor Kendall P. Brooks, who taught at CMU from 1910 until 1947. Monthly public viewing nights were established in 1976.
Each year the facility serves nearly 500 students in introductory observational astronomy courses as well as a large number of individuals from the general public who attend regular observatory open house sessions.