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Eye on the Sky

Eye on the Sky
By France Griggs Sloat

When it comes to Julie Langenbrunner’s future, the sky’s the limit. Literally. The senior graduates in May with a bachelor’s degree in physics and plans to pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in astrophysics, thanks to a love of the stars she honed at the University’s little-known observatory.

Sitting atop Lindner Hall, the observatory is complete with eight permanent telescopes, a retractable roof and a computer that interacts with the telescopes and can read the digital images they grab from deep space.

Last summer, Langenbrunner captured photos of Mars, Saturn and a nebula cluster in the Orion constellation from the observatory, viewed a partial eclipse of the sun and started her senior research project in theoretical astrophysics by studying the effects of turbulence of magnetic fields on the rate of star formation.

About 200 students are exposed to the observatory each year through an astronomy course called Our Universe: The Sky, which meets core course requirements for science, says associate professor Steven Herbert. The survey course teaches science using astronomy, and students use the observatory to learn how to operate a telescope and demonstrate their knowledge of sky navigation and the constellations.

Herbert says observation of the night sky, especially in winter, is surprisingly good—despite the city lights—using the 12-inch Meade telescopes, one of which is fitted with a digital camera and connected to a computer.

The observatory was added when Lindner Hall was renovated in 1991. Before then, students had to climb to a patio on the roof of Hinkle Hall and carry telescopes with them, says Herbert, who once spent a night topside on Hinkle to photograph a complete lunar eclipse.

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