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IPFW Builds Own Observatory

The new mini observatory at IPFW.

Photo credit: Mikaela Conley

The new mini observatory at IPFW.
Written by: Communicator StaffSeptember 09, 2015

Written by Katie Murray

IPFW now has its own mini observatory. Students and members of the community who have an interest in astronomy will have access to it starting in the Fall 2015 semester.

The observatory is located on IPFW’s north campus behind Ginsberg Hall,  at 5190 St. Joe Road. The building is a square 10 feet by 10 feet topped with a dome which is about 8 feet in diameter and 5 feet high. The building is almost ten feet high in the middle.

Steve Gillam, assistant professor of Physics, headed the project with a helping hand from Mike Perkins, a Physics undergraduate with a concentration in opto-electronics.

Perkins designed and built the aluminum base of the telescope also integrating the control software and a digital camera. These features allow users to command the telescope to look at a specific part of the night sky. It can also record digital images and videos.

Gillam says the motivation to build the observatory “was to provide a facility for IPFW undergraduates to get astronomical experience, help with recruiting undergraduates into Physics at IPFW by providing a resource for them to do astronomical research, and for public outreach.”

“The main technical reason for erecting the building was to have a permanent location for the telescope. This permanent arrangement makes the telescope ready to go at a moment’s notice. It also allows the telescope to point and track objects with great precision. This is necessary for precise scientific observations. This is a capability that all professional observatories possess,” Gillam said.

Though the main users of the observatory are undergraduate astronomy students, there are plans of opening it up to school-age children who have an interest in what they see in the night sky.

Gillam said, “We will offer tours and observing nights on a semi-regular basis … we will host elementary, middle and high school students. We are particularly interested in high school students as we recruit for them.”

Funding for the project came from the Department of Physics, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of Research, Engagement, and Sponsored Programs with a budget of $25,000.

The observatory is still under construction at this time. Gillam says he is “[hoping] for the end of September” to have it ready for use.