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ONE COLLEGE CIRCLE

CAMPUS NEWS

PHOTO BY KRIS DREESSEN

Student research assistants Michelle Gregor ’11 and Evan Losh ’13 stand beside the college’s telescope in the new observatory atop the Integrated Science Center. More students can do more sophisticated research because of the observatory, says physics and astronomy Assistant Professor Aaron Steinhauer, right.

College opens new window to the universe Students are now exploring the universe from atop the Integrated Science Center in the college’s new observatory. Geneseo recently mounted its 20-inch reflector telescope inside a shiny new fiberglass dome and equipped it with state-of-the-art instrumentation, including a spectrograph and an imaging camera. When the college bought the telescope two years ago, it had to be mounted onto a temporary wooden palette and covered with a tarp during inclement weather. In winter, it was stored inside. “This permanent placement of the telescope brings a new and exciting dimension to our astronomy program,” says Aaron Steinhauer, assistant professor of physics and astronomy. 4

geneseo scene

“In the past, it was not available for most of the academic year because of the weather.” In the introductory astronomy course, Steinhauer says stu-

independent study projects,” says Steinhauer. “In the past, students had to use data published by someone else on the star clusters they were studying because we weren’t able to make year-round observations. The new observatory now allows them to collect all of their own data, adding an element of confidence to the information PHOTO PROVIDED they collect.” The new observatory. The permanent use of the telescope and new dents will benefit greatly from the ability to see many concepts instrumentation has allowed Steinhauer to involve more covered in class brought to life. students on research projects “It also will provide a wealth and equipment management, of interesting experiments for our upper-level physics labs and such as calibration.

“It’s very exciting to have this sophisticated telescope in our astronomy program,” says Evan Losh ’13, a physics major who worked as a paid researcher under Steinhauer’s tutelage last summer measuring star brightness. “It will give students more hands-on experience and opportunities for exploration.” The work of Losh and other students is reinforcing Steinhauer’s research on stellar evolution in open clusters, large groups of stars formed at roughly the same time. “A vital component of these studies is accurately measuring the brightness of all stars in the cluster, which provides key parameters such as cluster age and distance, and also surface temperature and mass of the stars,” says Steinhauer. Steinhauer is complementing his research by making periodic visits to Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona to use the large telescopes in gathering data. He has made eight trips to Kitt Peak since 1997 with Geneseo students, including Losh. “It was an amazing experience being around such large, powerful telescopes,” says Losh. “I never really appreciated observational astronomy until I was there.” Geneseo’s Meade telescope has a 20-inch primary mirror and the optics are specially designed to provide a high level of image quality over a very wide field of view. The observatory dome has almost as much precision as the scope itself, thanks to designer Colin Blumson, a master woodcarver from Australia who for many years made a living carving religious figures. — David Irwin


Fall 2010 Scene