West Grand High observatory gives Kremmling eye on the night sky
Schools are supposed to help their students reach for the stars, and West Grand High School is doing just that with the installation of an astronomical observatory.The observatory, which is the small, white-domed building just south of the Mustangs football field, houses a 14-inch telescope. The observatory became operational this year.Weve been working on this observatory project now for about two years, said Mike Wilson, the high schools math and science teacher who is using it as part of his geology and astronomy class. We still have things that we want to add to it to make it function at an even higher level.Funding for the project came from a number of businesses, organizations and individuals including the Summit Foundation. The high schools El Pomar Youth in Community Service Club made a $2,000 grant to the project.The $15,000 metal observatory building was donated by the White Sands Missile Range in Las Cruces, N.M. and transported to Kremmling by the Grand County Road and Bridge Department. When it got here, it was a heck of a mess after it had stood in the New Mexico desert since the 1950s, Wilson said. Blue Valley Ranch supplied the funds so that we could refurbish it, and Mountain Parks Concrete provided the cement for its foundation.The observatorys metal dome can be rotated so that its sliding shutter window can be opened to allow the telescope to view any portion of the sky. At present, the dome can only be rotated manually, but plans are to eventually install a motor to do the work.The only thing in the observatory that is automated is the robotic mount on which the 14-inch telescope sits. When hooked up to a laptop computer that is programmed with a sky chart, the robotic mount can swing the telescope around to point it at specific celestial objects. The computer knows the latitude and longitude of this observatory and exact time of day, so it can help us easily find things in the sky, Wilson said. The robotic mount swings the telescope into place and then we have to make final adjustments to view the object. At present, all viewing of celestial objects is being done through the telescopes eyepiece. Wilson explained the 14-inch telescope is excellent for viewing Earths moon as well as most of the planets.Right now, we use only the human eye looking through the telescopes eyepiece to view things, he said. You can see the colors and bands of Jupiter very clearly through our telescope. The rings of Saturn can are very clear and the viewing will be especially good this February.Wilson said plans are to add additional equipment when funding becomes available. The next stage in developing this observatory is to add $4,000 worth of camera equipment which can do time exposures, he said. Later, we hope add light-intensifying equipment. When we finally get that, then well be able to do real research here.Wilson explained this additional equipment will allow those using the telescope to view deep space objects such as galaxies and nebulae. The ultimate plan for the West Grand High School observatory is to fully automate it so that it can be operated remotely by computer from inside West Grand High School. A camera would be attached to the telescopes eyepiece to transmit images to computer screens.Eventually, we like to be able to run the telescope from inside where well be warm and toasty on winter days and nights, Wilson said. Along with improving the comfort of those using the telescope, automating the observatory and linking it to the schools computer system could allow its use on the Internet. West Grand High students in Wilsons geology & astronomy class are using an automated telescope in New Mexico to view deep space objects over the Internet.Eventually, we like to have something like that here, Wilson said. Wed be able to share our telescope with the world through Google.For the present, West Grand High School is only sharing the use of the telescope with the local community through group viewings. Three students in Wilsons class Jake Motz, Ricky Gamblin and Heather Ohri-Chamberlain have helped run the observatorys equipment and organize the viewings for groups of elementary school students and Kremmling residents over the past several weeks.We three switch jobs during these viewings, Motz, a junior, said. I wanted to do this because Im interested in astronomy and always thought it would be interesting to look through a big telescoope. Its really interesting to learn about stars and how they were formed.Gamblin, also a junior, agreed.I really like science and I think its cool seeing whats out there in the sky. With a telescope, its real hands-on science.Ohri-Chamberlain, a senior, said she also enjoys learning about astronomy and helping to run the observatory viewings.Ive always liked staring at the night sky because its so pretty, she said. And I like working with the elementary school kids during the viewings. They pay attention to me because they know I can be mean if they dont listen.The addition of the observatory at the high school in Kremmling is part of the West Grand School Districts efforts to enhance the educational opportunities for its students and inspire them toward studies in science. That effort has already scored one success. A student in Wilsons original astronomy group, Michael Stone who graduated last spring, has gone on to the University of Colorado in Boulder where he is studying astronomy.
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