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Starry Nights

Ohio Northern’s rural location has distinct advantages over the hustle and bustle of a big city. For one thing, there’s always plenty of parking, and for another, acrophobes have little to fear.

But for astronomy professor Dr. Jason Pinkney, one characteristic stands out above any other, and it’s the reason he wanted an observatory on campus.

“Our campus has a big advantage in regards to light pollution. On a clear night, without the moon, you can see the Milky Way pretty easily here. And there aren’t many locations, really, where you can do that,” he said.

Since opening this past September, the new ONU Observatory gives the university the tools to take full advantage of Ada’s dark skies. It will serve as a valuable teaching laboratory for students, a base of operations for the ONU Astronomy Club and a popular form of public outreach.

Located on the northwest corner of campus near Wander Field, the observatory features a roll-off roof, three permanently mounted telescopes, and high-tech CCD equipment to connect the telescopes with computers and monitors. Pinkey plans to host two public events a month at the observatory, welcoming stargazers from everywhere to witness meteor showers, lunar eclipses or whatever the sky has to offer. He sees a particular opportunity in introducing children at Ada School to the field of astronomy.

“We can do daytime events as well,” he said. “We can use the telescopes to project images of the sun onto a screen, and we also have a solar telescope that has a filter that allows you to look directly at the sun. We have a lot of different attractions here.”

Pinkney was instrumental in the design of the state-of-the-art complex, taking special care to include crucial features like concrete telescope mounting piers independent of the actual floor. The reason, says Pinkey, is to prevent any vibrations caused by footsteps from the adversely affecting astrophotography.

“To make a nice crisp astrophoto, you basically need to track a subject within a couple of arcseconds. An arcsecond is 1/3,600th of a degree, and a degree is smaller than your pinky at arms length.”

Prior to the observatory’s construction, the ONU Astronomy Club boasted excellent turnout for stargazing events, including Mars Watch and a mid-winter lunar eclipse in five-degree weather. With the new facility, the future of astronomy at ONU looks even brighter.

For more information about the ONU Observatory and upcoming public events, please visit Dr. Pinkney's web page.