New observatory unveiled at Lundquist Lecture

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Professor Hinnefeld presenting the telescope. (Preface photos/TRICIA MCCANN)
Professor Hinnefeld presenting the telescope.
(Preface photos/TRICIA MCCANN)

Staff Writer                

The hall was buzzing with excitement as students, faculty and community members prepared for their “Stroll through Herschel’s ‘Luxuriant Garden.’” In this year’s Lundquist Fellowship Lecture, Professor Jerry Hinnefeld presented his work on IU South Bend’s new Astrological Observatory.

The lecture hall in the Education and Arts building was filled, and aisles became seats as the presentation began.

Professor Hinnefeld described his inspiration for our new observatory.

“Why me? I’m not an astronomer. I’ve never taught an astronomy course in my life. I can’t even call myself an amateur astronomer. We have some serious amateur astronomers in our department, and I don’t even come close to that. So why me? Well, I always have had an interest in the night sky and telescopes in particular,” Hinnefeld said.

He described his very first telescope he received as a kid.

“I remember seeing Jupiter and its orbiting moons through that telescope. I remember seeing Saturn’s rings through that telescope. You don’t need much of a telescope to see Saturn’s rings. You know, it didn’t turn me into a full-fledged amateur astronomer, but it is a fond memory of my childhood.”

With the help of many faculty members, boards and administration, the IU South Bend Observatory was a vision that became a reality.

“Some of the tuition money was made available for initiatives. It was on the second year we submitted this proposal for an astronomical observatory saying the preferred site was on the rooftop of Northside Hall. So we asked for about $71,200 for a particular telescope and a particular robotic mount, certain accessories, the particular dome, the building to support that dome and a spectrograph, really a spectrometer. The committee liked the proposal, they recommended it be funded, it was funded so then I started spending money,” Hinnefeld joked.

Over the course of two years the observatory has gone from an idea to a construction site to a now fully functional space able to be used. Many viewers in the audience were amazed at the work and effort put in by not only Professor Hinnefeld but IU South Bend as a community in making the project come to life.

Student Michael McMillion said “I came tonight to learn about what resources the campus has to offer. I really wanted to see what it was all about.”

Fellow Lundquist faculty member Dé Bryant said, “I came tonight to learn something because I always do whenever there is a Lundquist talk, and I had actually had seen the work going on over there but I had no idea what it was. It was very cool to hear about it and how it came about, how it’s going to be used.”

The new observatory is complete with a robotic mount, motorized shutters, a new telescope, motorized dome and updated computer software called “The Sky X.” This software works with the mount and offers a sky chart that enables the viewer to know which planet or star they are looking at.

Professor Hinnefeld compared this process to walking through the local conservatory.

“It’s a fun activity, and in some ways it’s also educational. I feel when you do that at the conservatory, in some way you want to read about that kind of plant, wonder about the features of that planet and the same thing is true with these deep sky objects,” Hinnefeld  said. “It’s fun just to look at them, but then you get curious about the nature of that deep space object. So even a stroll through the luxuriant garden is a worthwhile educational activity, but at some point of course you want to go beyond it, figure out how it works, find out what they’re made of. So we are prepared to do that here.”

For right now the observatory will be used for classroom purposes and will be opening once a month for students and community members to come and view. Hinnefeld is optimistic about the future and the possibilities that will open up as more students learn how to work the software and give presentations.

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