Observatory opens the universe to students

Marin Meades '15
Marin Meades ’15 works on the rack-mounted computer that controls the positioning of the telescope. Photo courtesy of Prof. Andrea Dobson.

On a bright autumn afternoon on a hill above the wheat fields of the Braden Ranch, a construction crane slowly lowered the components of a 9,000-pound telescope into a silver dome. When the components were in place, the telescope rose 17 feet above the floor of the building.

The Pacific Northwest Regional Observatory, located at Braden Farm, near Wallula Gap, will provide astronomy students the opportunity to use a 30-inch Cassegrain telescope named for Richmond J. Hoch, who originally installed it at the Battelle Observatory on Rattlesnake Mountain above Richland, Wash. Battelle donated the telescope to AASTA (the Association for the Advancement of Science Through Astronomy), of which Whitman is a member.

Hoch and his wife, Diane, recently made a generous contribution to help establish the site and have pledged further support for the project as it grows over the next two years.

The observatory has been set up for collaborative use by Whitman, other regional educational organizations, AASTA and other scientists. Whitman astronomers and observational astronomy students will use the telescope for research and class projects, and the college will also use the observatory for community outreach projects like the Summer Institute Workshop Series for regional middle school and high school teachers. The public will also be able to visit the observatory on a scheduled basis.

In addition to observations of stars and planets, Whitman College is planning to use the computer-controlled telescope to track spacecraft and near-Earth asteroids this coming summer. When operational, this versatile telescope will provide tremendous opportunities for research, education and community outreach.

Thanks are owed to many scientists, engineers and volunteers for their dedicated work in bringing the observatory online. Special thanks are due to Richmond and Diane Hoch for their financial support.