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Dr. Hawkins on the Schneider Observatory

NKU finally has an observatory, thanks to the generosity of alums Dr. David and Julie Schneider and some other donors!  It was constructed over the summer and dedicated on August 26, 2015.  Several people asked how long we had worked on it, so I did some checking and discovered that in September of 1998 I called a meeting regarding an observatory to house our 14” Celestron telescope.  I don’t know whether there had been such discussions previously or not.  I do know that (1) I wanted to see the telescope in use much more than it had been and (2) I wanted to have experimental work going on in our department and saw this as part of that goal.

There were many twists and turns between 1998 and 2015!  Some time I might submit an overview.  For now I want to focus on what the observatory is like and how we will use it.  Plans for its use changed between 2000 and 2010.  For one thing, we finally completed the planetarium and were bringing many people on campus for shows.  For another, some of the astronomy faculty had started doing public observing sessions on campus, in addition to those they had done for years at Big Bone Lick State Park.  I understand that several hundred people lined up to look at Mars the year there was so much publicity about how close it was to the Earth.

The point of all this is that our concept evolved from a building to house the 14” in support of research projects to a building equipped with several smaller telescopes and the goals of supporting our astronomy labs and public viewing sessions in addition to research.  That led us to the final design:  a rectangular building with locations for 8 telescopes and a roll off roof.

After David informed me of his and Julie’s intent to provide a major gift in support of the observatory, we began looking for sites.  An early favorite was the yard east of the Honors House.  We had held many viewing sessions there and it seemed an ideal location.  However the long rang campus plan had other ideas for that site, and so we looked at several other possibilities.  We finally decided on the roof of Founders Hall.  It is above the bulk of campus lighting, has a magnificent view of the sky from southeast around to the west, and a number of other advantages that would reduce the cost of the observatory. That put us into the costing and design phases, then bidding and re-bidding, and finally construction and dedication!

As I mentioned, the observatory has a roll-off roof and houses 8 telescopes:  six 8” Celestrons intended for our astronomy labs and public observing, the 14” Celestron and a newer 11” Celestron, which will be used for faculty and student research, but also in public sessions and labs for observing deep sky objects. There will be a control room on the 5th floor of Founders, with computers to control the instruments, storage space, etc.  Power and network connections are on the pillar for each telescope.  There are CCD cameras and other accessories that will support research projects.

The only down side at this point is that Founders Hall is getting a long needed renovation as part of the construction of the Health Innovations Center.  The building will be completely gutted, and as a result, we will have no access to the observatory for two years beginning around December.  Department faculty will continue providing observing sessions as in the past, while looking forward to the day when we can put this new facility to its fullest use!