Students at Southern often reach for the stars, and now, once again, they can gaze at them, too.
Thanks to departmental funding and with help from a competitive provost award, a new projector has been purchased for the Morrill Hall Planetarium, equipping the university’s two resident astronomers, Elliott Horch and Dana Casetti, with a critical learning tool that has been noticeably absent for decades.
“The planetarium has fascinated me for all the years I’ve been at Southern,” says Eric Anderson, professor of physics and the planetarium’s lead technician. “The observatory has long been a source of interest to the public because of the domes, and we have world-class astronomers here on campus doing incredible work. This is a win-win.”
According to Horch, students frequently credit their choice of a physics major to a love of astronomy.
“Even students who don’t ultimately major in physics recall that childhood wonder of looking at the stars and wondering about the cosmos,” he explains.
With joint management by the Physics and Earth Science departments, the hope is to bring students across interdisciplinary lines to nourish curiosity and build awareness around the university’s work in astronomy and astrophysics.
Most recently, that work includes a $350,000 grant award to Casetti and Terry Girard, professor of physics, both of whom are co-principal investigators exploring the astrometric reach of the Hubble Space Telescope to the satellite system of the Andromeda galaxy.
“I have to tell you, teaching is going to be a lot more interesting now with this facility,” said Casetti. “The planetarium is a great place for getting people interested.”
Two area schools are scheduled to visit the planetarium this spring.
“We’re looking forward to making this an integral part of the community,” said Anderson. “We really want this to be a theater used by Southern students, faculty, and staff on a regular basis going forward.”
Students interested in learning more can consider enrolling in either ESC 210 – Principles of Astronomy, or PHY 100 – Physics through Inquiry: Stars, Planets, and Galaxies, which are taught by Casetti and Horch.