Local News: SEMO Department of Chemistry and Physics welcomes new telescope to campus (9/23/22)

(Left) Brianna Mills and Sophia Hodge observe the new telescope in Rhodes Hall’s Room 301 after describing more about its capabilities and accessibility on September 21. The telescope itself weighs about 300 pounds, and the tripod it is mounted on during setup weighs about 1.5 kg 75 pounds.

Photo by Emma Kratky

In the summer of 2022, the Department of Chemistry and Physics purchased a $20,000 telescope that uses light reflection to provide a more advanced view of space. The new telescope will be a learning resource for both the department and the Astronomy Club at SEMO.

The 16-inch LX200 model is newer than any other recent telescope owned by the department and offers much more performance in terms of what it can see and track in the sky.

Assistant professor of chemistry and physics Jonathan Kessler said the plan to purchase the telescope began two years ago amid the pandemic.

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“We were kind of in this Covid time and we thought, you know, it’s a good opportunity to get people outside and do something science-related outside,” Kessler said.

Kessler also commented on the benefits of the new telescope and what it could offer both the department and the Astronomy Club, including the ability to see nebulae and galaxies.

“The general theory is that the larger the telescope, the better the resolution. This allows you to see finer details. In particular, this larger 16-inch telescope has the ability to gather more light, allowing us to see things that are darker in the sky,” Kessler said.

A big struggle to allow students on campus and public access to the telescope is the setup process. The telescope itself weighs about 300 pounds and is about a meter tall. It must be taken from Rhodes Hall to an outdoor area, which requires the use of carts, the elevator, and possibly some type of vehicle or cart to safely bring it to an open area.

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Kessler also mentioned the prospect of working toward building a permanent observatory near campus that would facilitate access to the telescope. He said the department needed to identify donors and allocate funds for this project.

“After all, that’s the idea [the observatory] would house this particular telescope,” Kessler said.

Brianna Mills, a sophomore major in environmental sciences and president of the Astronomy Club, said she was very excited about the new telescope.

“It was really cool because I felt like it would get more people interested in learning about astronomy,” Mills said. “It was really cool just being able to see through it and see something so far from us.”

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Mills said the astronomy club as a whole is excited about the new telescope because it will bring a lot of traction to the club.

“It really seemed like the university kind of recognized us as a club worthy of their interest,” Mills said.

The Astronomy Club’s Treasurer, Sophia Hodge, said she was glad the telescope could benefit not just the people who use it.

“It’s a really great opportunity for us to expand our program and our club. I think they’ll think about doing a minor and major in astronomy at some point,” Hodge said. “It’s a great experience to use [the telescope]. If it helps people decide if maybe I want to do something in science or something, I think it’s a great tool for the campus.”

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