LOGAN – All are invited to “Aggie Blue Sky Night,” the inaugural public opening of the Utah State University Observatory Friday, Oct. 8, on campus. The free gathering begins at 7:30 p.m. with a brief dedication ceremony in the Engineering Building, Room 103. “We’re excited to show the community the new observatory, which is a wonderful addition to campus and a great learning tool for students,” says Jan Sojka, professor and head of USU’s Department of Physics, which manages USUO, as the observatory is informally known.Following the ceremony, guests will have the opportunity, in small groups, to visit the roof of the Science Engineering Research building, upon which the observatory is located. Weather permitting, guests will view crisp, clear images of Jupiter and the Galilean moons through USUO’s new 20-inch PlaneWave Instruments telescope.While waiting their turn to enter USUO, which features a circular staircase leading to a telescope gallery topped with a 16.5-foot diameter dome, guests can visit a variety of presentations and exhibits. Presenters include USU’s Get Away Special student team, which flew an experiment aboard NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’ microgravity aircraft this past June; John Elwell, program manager of USU’s Space Dynamics Laboratory, which built NASA’s orbit-based WISE telescope; USU astronomy lecturer Tonya Triplett and members of USU’s LIDAR “Green Beam” and new “Gold Beam” team.Physics faculty member Shane Larson, along with members of USU’s Society of Physics Students chapter and Cache Valley Stargazers, will staff telescopes on the grounds surrounding the SER building to offer guests additional opportunities to view the night sky. Additional telescopes, mounted on top of the SER building, will be available for stargazing.Activities offered at the event fulfill a portion of the requirements for the Scout astronomy merit badge.As a student fundraiser, the SPS chapter will offer refreshments for purchase.The evening’s presentations are handicap-accessible; the observatory’s telescope is accessible by stairs only.USU students are the primary beneficiaries of the new observatory, says James Coburn, USUO coordinator. More than 750 Aggies are enrolled in fall astronomy classes, which afford them access to USUO. As staffing permits, USU hopes to offer public observatory viewing events several times per year. For more information, contact the Department of Physics at 435-797-2857.
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