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Observatory Open Night on October 25, 2019

October 25, 2019 - The Etelman Observatory had it's first open night of the semester on October 25, 2019. This event took place from 7 pm to 10 pm in the evening. Through RSVPs, the public was able to witness talks from the faculty, the staff, and the students of the Physics department. Individuals were introduced and given a brief history of the Etelman Observatory. Persons had the choice to attend the talk session with Dr. David Morris, Physics professor and director of the Etelman Observatory, and/or have a look at the stars, constellations, and planets through telescopes on the roof top. These telescopes were lent by local astronomers in the Virgin Islands.


Dr. Morris introduced persons to his talk by giving them a brief history of the Etelman Observatory as well as five creative experiments that can be done at home. While providing his talk, he was able to debunk theories such as the Earth being flat. He was also able to provide proof for phenomena such as the rotation of the Earth and the distance of the Earth from the Sun. He provided ways in which an individual can prove these theories with five at home experiments:

  1. The Earth is round and it's circumference is about 40,000 km.  Eratosthenes this can be proven using Eratosthenes' Method. All you need is a meterstick to measure the circumference. Place the meterstick tangent the floor. Measure the shadow that is casted from the stick. Eratosthenes did this with a friend. He and his friend were thousands of miles from each other. At noon, they measured the shadows that were casted. Despite them measuring the shadows at the same time, the angles that were projected from each shadow are different. This wouldn't be possible is the Earth was flat; a curve on the surface must have been the cause of the different angles.
  2. The Earth rotates on it's axis once every 24 hours. Proof of this phenomenon is Leon Foucault's pendulum.
  3. The planets in our solar system are really far apart. This can be proven with Kepler's law.
  4. The Earth is about from the Sun 150,000,000 km from the Sun. This was devised by Edmond Halley. He also devised a way to measure the scale of the solar system. This was done using the transit of Mercury.
  5. There are billions of planets in our galaxy that are just like Earth. Within the past 20 years, scientists have found 20,000 stars. One out of a hundred stars would have an Earth.

In the dome of the Etelman Observatory, Priyadarshini "Priya" Gokuldass, an Observatory Specialist, explained the history of the Etelman Observatory and provided information of the Virgin Islands Robotic Telescope (VIRT). VIRT is a robotically controlled telescope that was designed to study the astronomical phenomenon, Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). The telescope does this by taking photos of the sky with a camera using primary and secondary mirrors and converging lights. Even though the main purpose of the telescope is to look at GRBs, it can also observe stars and gravitational waves.