New observatory lights up the sky for students

By By Deborah Rafferty

By Deborah Rafferty

Students are always told to reach for the stars, and U astronomy scholars won’t settle for less.

The department of physics and astronomy has a new $1 million observatory under construction in Frisco Peak so students can see more of the vast universe than the dimmed skies above Salt Lake City have to offer.

The new observatory will house a 32-inch remote-controlled telescope that students in the department will be able to use for their classes, especially the Observational Astronomy course. High school students in the Milford area and some in the Salt Lake area will be able to use the observatory, said Robert Wayne Springer, associate professor of physics and astronomy.

“We’re working on incorporating it into the core studies for the department of physics and astronomy,” Springer said. “We will be able to control the telescope remotely through control rooms at the U.”

The department has an observatory in operation located on top of the south Physics Building. However, because of weather conditions and bright lights in Salt Lake City, the image can be distorted.

Springer and several other graduate students scoped out various locations in southern Utah to find the best spot to build the observatory for the highest quality star gazing. Frisco Peak, located 20 miles northwest of Milford and 9,600 feet above sea level, was selected because of the dark skies and low precipitation levels. The location also already has electrical power and is near a road.

Construction on the observatory started July 16, and construction on the outside of the structure has already been completed and is waiting for power. Construction crews are in the process of installing a high-speed Internet connection and security cameras. Although Springer is not too worried about the security problems because the area doesn’t seem to have issues with criminal behavior, there is always the possibility that the equipment could be damaged, he said.

The department has already received proposals from various members of the scientific community for projects such as the observatory, Springer said. The observatory construction is scheduled to be complete by next year.

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photo courtesy paul ricketts

A $1 million observatory is under construction in Frisco Peak, UT. Far away from the light pollution of Salt Lake, students in the physics and astronomy departments will more clearly be able to observe the cosmos.