The UVI Observatory, located at 1325 ft atop Crown Mountain on the island of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, houses a research-grade 0.5 m automated Cassegrain telescope. The telescope is maintained and operated by astronomers at the University of the Virgin Islands, the College of Charleston, and South Carolina State University.
In addition to the permanent observatory staff and an entusiastic group of volunteers, the facility hosts also UVI faculties from the physics department and collaborators. We invite you to explore this website to explore the Observatory, our activities (including our plan for an astronomy summer camp), research , and to obtain the latest Astronomy news.
Dr. David morris, Director:
David Morris is a professor of physics and astronomy at UVI and is the Director of the Etelman Observatory. He moved to St. Thomas in 2011 after working for 4 years at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD and teaching part-time at the George Washington University. At NASA-Goddard, Dr. Morris worked as a member of the Science Mission Directorate, primarily studying phenomena related to gamma-ray bursts, specifically late-time episodes of emission known as flares, during which the GRB central engine (though to be a black-hole) restarts its emission process, sometimes days or weeks after the GRB initial explosion.
While at UVI, Dr. Morris has overseen the reopening of Etelman Observatory to the public (in 2012), has instituted the Observatory's first ever summer research internship program (begun in 2013), and has developed research ties between UVI and NASA-Goddard (5 UVI students are currently working at Goddard this summer). Dr. Morris is also PI of the NASA grants that currently fund UVI's new Physics and Astronomy bachelor of science major and he has led the development of the degree program since its inception.
Dr. Morris is particularly excited to have led the rapid growth of the astrophysics group at UVI, which now includes 5 full-time astrophysicists working on-island (up from 0 full-time astrophysicists before Dr. Morris' arrival) and ahost of committed and enthusiastic volunteers and community supporters. Dr. Morris has sought, over recent years, to hire some of the most talented astrophysics researchers and instructors in the world to join the UVI astrophysics group. Together, they are dedicated to introducing students and adults to the fascinating phenomena of the night sky and to increasing opportunities in physics, astronomy, and aerospace engineering for students in the Virgin Islands.
Dr. David J Smith is the principle investigator of the VI-EPSCoR-sponsored Virgin Islands Microscale Weather Modeling (VIMWM) incubator project - a project that seeks to establish viable local weather forecasts for the US Virgin Islands and eventually for neighboring islands as well. UVI's computing cluster is presently being replaced with funds from a Title III grant and should be operational by the beginning of 2013. The new cluster will be used by many CSM faculty and students for high performance computing in a variety of research areas. The WRF forecast model will be installed on the cluster to generate microscale (< 1.0 km) forecasts for the Virgin Islands region.
A closely related project, VI-EPSCoR-sponsored Measuring Near-Shore Bulk Sea Temperatures, has recently completed a nearly two-year run of collecting near-shore bulk sea temperatures around St. Thomas. This data, along with far-shore bulk temperatures derived from concurrent satellite images, will be utilized to produce an algorithm which will allow the near-shore bulk sea surface temperatures to be determined more accurately from the real-time satellite data. The improved near-shore temperatures will be incorporated into the local forecast model to improve calculation of evaporation rates, which are critical to accurate forecasting.
The Microscale Weather Modeling project (originally funded by VIEPSCoR) seeks to establish specific weather predictions initially for the US Virgin Islands and eventually for other Caribbean islands. The project will use the internationally recognized weather-modeling program, Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF), running on UVI's new 120-core computer cluster. The cluster is funded by SAFRA. The WRF model will generate daily local weather predictions on the sub-kilometer scale. UVI students may become involved through outreach to the local schools, in running and modifying the model, and designing a public web presence.
Dr. Bruce Gendre, Resident Astronomer
Dr Bruce Gendre is the resident astronomer of the Etelman Observatory, in charge of supervising the robotic system that performs the observations. His scientific interests are related to the physics of the gamma-ray bursts, the evolution of binaries, and the phenomenon that occur at the horizon of a black hole. He participated in various experiments related to these topics, including the LIGO-Virgo collaboration, that detected for the first time in 2016 a gravitational wave signal.
Dr. Brice Orange
Dr. N. Brice Orange is the Consultant Astronomer and Software/Hardware Scientist at the Etelman Observatory (EO), as well as the Lead Scientist and Founder of OrangeWave Innovative Science, LLC (OWIS). He came onboard at the observatory in February of 2015, to oversee much of the day-to-day operations, among others; maintenance, upgrades, debugging, and testing of the observatory's robotic control software and telescope; and to contribute to various research, observing, and systematic objectives at the observatory; as well as to public outreach events. Since then, he has also worked with UVI's Marine and Environmental Science Department as a consultant researcher and software/hardware scientist on the university's fleet of remote weather sensing stations.
Prior to coming onboard at EO, Dr. Orange received his Ph.D. from Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in May of 2014, for his solar physics and magnetohydrodynamics (MHDs) work. At FIT he was the recipient of an NSF Earth/Sun Science Graduate Research fellowship, and the NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship for his software development on automated identification, analysis, and classification of dynamic transients in the Sun's atmosphere. Immediately after finishing graduate school, Dr. Orange spent some months traveling, surfing, and writing. During this period, he stumbled upon the realization that "the measure of success rivals the vastness of your own mentality," and as such, founded OWIS as an interdisciplinary and dynamic platform for scientists to pursue their goals while dreaming their own dream.
At OWIS, Dr. Orange's main focus is studying the Sun -- Earth -- Atmosphere -- Climate as an integrated entity. He also oversees contributions to this OWIS research objective from UVI physics faculty, as well as actively supervises solar and atmospheric research activities of UVI undergraduates. In maintaining his dedication to interdisciplinary research, he also actively works with other OWIS scientists on diverse research objectives, such as: stellar and plasma physics, MHDs, magnetic neutral point reconnection, water fowl ecology, ecosystem criticality, political science, rocket science, in-space radiation shielding technologies, big data analytics, and semi-supervised classification framework development.
Dr. Antonino Cucchiara
Dr. Antonino (Nino) Cucchiara joined UVI in the Fall 2016 as Assistant Professor. He spent the last several years between the NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center, the Space Telescope Science Institute and University of California Santa Cruz where he studied the most energertic explosions in the Universe called Gamma-ray Bursts (GRB). He also investigates the early chemical enrichment of the Universe using the absorption lines spectroscopy of GRB afterglows and quasars. He worked on space missions like the Swift satellite and his is currently involved in several collaborations for the rapid follow-up observations of transients phenomena using robotic telescopes (like VIRT) and some of the largest telescopes in the World, including the Gemini telescopes and the Discovery Channell Telescope (via his scientific network).
Dr. Jan Staff
Dr. Staff joined UVI in the Fall 2016 as Assistant Professor. He is a theoretical and numerical astrophysicist. His main research topics are mainly centered on hydrodynamical and magneto-hydrodynamical simulations of jets and outflows from forming stars, common envelope interactions between giant (evolved) stars and their companion stars or planets, and the merger of two white dwarfs. These simulations requires the use of high performance computing systems, which are essentially big clusters of normal computer linked together over a fast network. Furthermore, Dr. Staff is also very interested in the physics of ultracompact objects and their role in powering gamma-ray bursts and supernova. Investigating the possible engine of long gamma-ray bursts was the topic of Dr. Staff's PhD thesis.
Kristen Casalenuovo, M.S.
Kristen joined the Observatory team as a volunteer in June 2016. You may recognize her as the hostess who helps with the front of house tour on public viewing nights. Behind the scenes, she is our social media strategist and special programs coordinator. Kristen moved to island two years ago to work at International Capital & Management Company as an instructional designer. Previous to this, she lived in Australia where she developed the science outreach program for a large university and built and raced a solar car in the Australian Outback (sunswift.com). Kristen holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Longwood University and a Master of Science in Physics from Virginia Commonwealth University.
Mr. and Mrs. Andy and Bonnie Watts
Andy and Bonnie Watts are long time residents of St. Thomas (25 and 35 years respectively) with a love and deep knowledge of the night sky. Mr. and Mrs. Watts also own what is most certainly the most extensive collection of telescopic equipment in the Virgin Islands and are kind enough to share the use of several of their instruments with the general public during Etelman Observatory open houses. Most telescopes on the observing deck (with the exception of the VIRT) and the back porch, belong to Mr. and Mrs. Watts. In early 2016, Mr. Watts formally incorporated a non-profit organization, the St. Thomas Astronomical Resources Society (STARS), St. Thomas' only amateur astronomers association. This group has begun meeting semi-regularly when Mr. Watts has time in between work (aside from being a great astronomer, Mr. Watts is also one of the VI's most well respected and busiest carpenters) and Etelman Observatory events! Andy and Bonnie have been helping out at Etelman events since our very inception of public nights, back in 2012.
Mr. Ricky Callwood
Mr. Callwood is a 'born-in-StThomas' local and is an avid amateur astronomer with a deep knowledge of the night sky and a love of sharing scientific details behind the objects he helps visitors to see through his eyepiece. Mr. Callwood became our second volunteer amateur astronomy (after Mr. and Mrs. Watts) in 2015 and now assists regularly in all Observatory events.
Mr. Tyler Yannone
Mr. Yannone is a student at Antilles school on St. Thomas and has a passion for all things astronomical. Tyler volunteered to help out at Etelman public nights 3 years ago and learned how to control the VIRT through computer commands. Tyler now has his own telescope that he brings up to public events and loves to share his knowledge with visitors.