Users see stars in Observatory


Chance A. Iheoma

Professor Tom Wilbur sets up one of six telescopes AACC owns as part of the Observatory.

Alex Fregger, Technology Editor

AACC students can gaze at stars from the second highest point in Anne Arundel County using the Observatory on campus.

The college’s Observatory, located in the back of Parking Lot B behind the annex buildings, helps host an annual planet walk and free monthly events for Astronomy Club members, faculty and community members.

Professor Tom Wilbur, who  started managing the physics laboratory  in 1999, said students hardly used the Observatory before the college started updating it.

According to Wilbur, when he started at AACC, the Observatory’s sliding roof “was on rollers and the students had to open the roof, which was dangerous.”

Wilbur also said when he arrived at AACC, some equipment, like the telescopes and the roof, were outdated, but now the quality of the Observatory is equivalent to those at four-year colleges.

The Observatory has six telescopes, ranging from 11 to 14 inches in diameter.

Wilbur said while the telescopes cost around $1,000, the mounts they are attached to cost more than $10,000.

This, Wilbur said, is because the technology inside of them automatically finds and tracks an object in the sky, while compensating for the Earth’s rotation.

The college added a motorized lift and other Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant features inside the Observatory in 2007 to allow wheelchair access. The project costed $300,000.

More recently in 2012, the Astronomy Club helped install a radio telescope called “Radio Jove,” which— depending on the time of year—allows users to receive radio signals from Jupiter.

AACC has also worked with the School of Science and Technology to reduce light pollution on campus by installing downward-facing lights and allowing users of the Observatory to shut off the streetlights closest to it.

AACC held a solar eclipse viewing party in August 2017. For the event, the college streamed video of the eclipse.

According to Dr. Debra Levine, the Astronomy Club’s faculty adviser, about 400 people showed up to view the partial eclipse.

On May 5, 2019, the Astronomy Club will help host a five-mile walk of the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail between Glen Burnie and Severna Park. Participants can use the Observatory’s telescopes after the walk.

First-year transfer studies student Shawn Pollard said he didn’t know AACC had an Observatory and said the club should advertise it.

First-year psychology student Kyree Stinsong said it’s “different when you look in books at stars and constellations. It’s not as exciting, and if you did know about an Observatory [people] would be more interested” in taking astronomy classes.