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The Dartmouth
March 2, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Great observations

Although the Shattuck Observatory's 139-year-old telescope is too old to be used to conduct any significant research, students and members of the Stargazers club can still catch an occasional glimpse of a celestial object.

The telescope is far less powerful than the more modern 30-foot mirror telescopes used today and the frequently overcast skies of Hanover also prevent any extensive research at the observatory.

"I think the thing that's really striking about it is that even though we don't have this modern, state-of-the-art equipment, when we're looking through it, it's real light from real objects that you're seeing," said Astronomy Professor John Thorstensen, the director of the observatory.

Graduate stduents in Astronomy and Physics conduct advanced astronomical research about two times a year at the Michigan-Dartmouth-MIT Observatory in Arizona, Thorstensen said.

"Classes just look at nice things in this observatory," Thorstensen said. "Some of the more advanced students use it for practice, finding coordinates and picture taking."

The observatory, which was built in 1854, lies on a hill behind the Wilder physics building.

Natural Philosophy Professor Ira Young, Class of 1828, who bought a $2,300 telescope in 1846, petitioned the College for the construction of an observatory to house it. Dr. George C. Shattuck, in 1854, donatated the $7,000 required to build the observatory.

Stargazers must open the dome manually by climbing up a metal step-ladder and turning a crank. An electronic mechanism controls the the dome's rotation, but the telescope must be moved by rope and by hand.

Natural Philosophy Professor C.A. Young, Class of 1853, the son of Ira Young, replaced the original telescope in 1872 with a newer 9.4 inch instrument, which is the telescope currently in use.

With this new tool, C.A. Young did much groundbreaking work in astronomy and spectroscopy, which involves the study of celestial objects by examining the spectra of light which they emit.

Richard Messina, Tuck '76, painted the telescope a patriotic red, white and blue in 1976.

"He painted it that way to liven it up. We made a bargain. If he wanted to strip it down and scrape it, he could paint it any color he wanted," Physics and Astronomy Professor Delo Mook, then director of the observatory, said.

Members of the Stargazers Club try to use the telescope as often as possible.

"Basically the Stargazers Club uses it for pleasure viewing," said Andy Williams, the Stargazers secretary. "It's especially a lot of fun for me because there's a lot of people who've never looked through the telescope before."