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Calling All Stargazers

October 5, 2011

Observatory moon

On the agenda last Thursday night:  Jupiter and the four Galilean moons, the waxing gibbous moon, the Andromeda Galaxy, a globular star cluster and Albireo, a pair of very colorful stars.

Drexel’s Joseph R. Lynch Observatory held its first open house of the new academic year on Thursday, October 6 at 7 p.m. The open houses are typically held the first Wednesday of every month, about 30 minutes after sunset. The event is open to the Drexel community and the general public—at least, those who can actually find the observatory. It’s tricky, but here is how to get there:

  • Enter the Main Building and take the stairs in the Great Court to the third floor.
  • Follow toward Curtis Hall, traveling past the A.J. Drexel Picture Gallery on your right.
  • Climb three stairs and follow landing about 10 feet to a staircase (there is a sign that says 451-459 and an upward arrow).
  • Climb two flights of stairs.
  • Follow long hallway until it dead ends, then make a left.
  • Follow hallway to a set of double doors.
  • Through double doors, climb stairs until you reach observatory.

Once you find your way there, you can view a series of celestial bodies through Philadelphia’s largest telescope—a Meade LX200GPS with Schmidt-Cassegrain 16-inch optics—as long as the weather cooperates. If it’s not a clear night, the open house usually gets cancelled. Despite popular belief, telescopes cannot see through the clouds, says Gordon Richards, director of the observatory and associate professor of physics.

It’s the size of the telescope’s mirror that makes it the largest in Philadelphia, Richards says. In fact, the mirror size can be compared to the pupil of an eye—the larger the “pupil” or mirror, the more light is collected. He uses the observing equipment for his Intro to Astronomy course and his Observational Astrophysics course, in which he teaches students about professional astronomy and how to use the equipment to “make pretty pictures.”

Although the equipment is used primarily for course work, Richards says that every open house is well attended by Drexel students, faculty and staff, and the general public. That could be due in large part to Richards’ advertising efforts on the day of the open houses; you can find him somewhere on campus with a solar telescope, offering passersby an opportunity to gaze directly at the sun.

The observatory’s 15-foot dome was built in 1968 but was largely underused for decades. In 2002-03, thanks to funds entrusted to the Physics Department from Joseph R. Lynch, '58, and the GE Foundation, renovations were made to the dome and a new deck was installed, making it safer for visitors to walk on the roof of Main Building.

See photos from Thursday's open house here.

Learn more about the observatory here.