Opportunity to stargaze available to students


Observatory photos at UK Campus on Monday, March 8, 2010. Photo by Adam Wolffbrandt

By Brian Shlonsky

It took 110 million years for the light from an exploded star to reach the Earth, and it took UK students moments to witness this phenomenon using a telescope at UK’s student observatory.

Since its opening during the 2008 spring semester, the MacAdam Student Observatory, located at the top of Parking Garage 2 between W.T. Young Library and the Chemistry-Physics Building, has been a place where UK students and other astronomy aficionados can come and view space.

AST 191 and 192 students are able to stargaze using the 20-inch reflecting telescope positioned in the center of the dome-shaped observatory, bringing topics in lectures and photographs to life.

“When you look through the telescope, it is a new and exciting experience to see for your very own, light that has traveled billions of light years to get to your eye,” said Timothy Knauer, director of the observatory.

The UK Department of Physics and Astronomy started a free public outreach program called Kentucky SkyTalk to spark outside interest in astronomy by sponsoring grade schools to come on visits.

“We are trying to get the public interested in astronomy, and the program will be good for the university and surrounding community,” Knauer said.

In addition to the 1,800 undergraduates that visit the observatory each year, Knauer expects about 900 more visitors to come for the SkyTalks.

“There’s no question that Saturn is the perennial favorite,” Knauer said. “It always gets ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ from first-time viewers, and I’ve noticed that professional astronomers usually find the time to take a peek, maybe ‘just to check the seeing.’ ”

Accounting sophomore Jonathan Cayot visited the observatory as part of his AST 191 course.

“I thought it was really cool because it gives you an idea of what’s really up there,” Cayot said. “The images I saw through the telescope could have been clearer, but I liked it because there is only so much you can see in books without seeing the real thing.”

The startup costs to build the observatory that included the facilities and salaries were around $1 million, Knauer said.

For this month’s SkyTalk, physics and astronomy professor Raymond LeBeau will speak on the Kepler mission in a lecture titled “A Galaxy of Giant Planets” at 7 p.m. Thursday in room 153 of the Chemistry-Physics Building.

Presentations are on the second Thursday of each month and are free and open to the public.

For more information on the observatory and the SkyTalks, visit their Web site, (www.pa.uky.edu/observatory).