The Advance-Titan

New observatory, updated planetarium among changes for astronomy dept.

The physics and astronomy department is working on construction of a new astronomy observatory on the roof of Halsey Science Center and is hoping to renovate the Buckstaff Planetarium on campus to create more opportunities for research and exploration at UW Oshkosh.

Physics and astronomy professor Barton Pritzl said the astronomy and physics department has been wanting to construct an astronomy observatory for a while, and it is excited to see it come to fruition.

“We wanted to give students as much as a real life experience working in an observatory to make use of collecting information,” Pritzl said. “That was the main goal or purpose behind it so that students would have something to use rather than trying to get access by having to travel somewhere else to make use of these things.”

The astronomy observatory will be on the roof of Halsey and the control room will be on the third floor of the building. Pritzl said he is excited to have students access all of the different equipment that has been selected for the observatory, including a telescope and professional cameras.

“[The observatory] is still a work in progress, but we bought a somewhat of a professional-level camera that has a filter set on there,” Pritzl said. “What the filters do is they help you see objects in different colors. So what you would do is look through a blue filter and see how bright it looks, and then look through a red filter and see how bright does it look.”

Pritzl said himself, physics and astronomy professor Nadejda Kaltcheva and UWO graduate and Medical Informatics Program Manager Christopher Christopherson have been researching and ordering equipment for the astronomy observatory.

“Dr. Kalcheva has been so helpful, especially initially getting everything ordered, purchased and set up,” Pritzl said. “Christopher has been very helpful getting things set up and getting the telescope up and running.”

Pritzl said he hopes to see the observatory up and running by the end of November.

“We had a few setbacks,” Pritzl said. “There was a crack in the dome that needed to be fixed. We had to wait until it was warm outside to fix that. We had other issues with cables breaking inside of [the observatory] and there was a communications problem between the main room and the observatory. It’s been a learning process in that way, as scientist[s] we do somewhat enjoy the challenges that are presented and how to overcome those problems as they come up.”

Christopherson said he hopes to see the observatory in working condition so students at UWO can begin and continue analysis.

“I am excited to see more research happen,” Christopherson said. “It is great for students, and I know that researching helped me as a student in my undergrad. When I was doing my research it was nice to see these things being brought up in my physics class and to see the concepts come together in front of me.”

Pritzl said the general student population would not be able to see or use the observatory on top of Halsey.

“Primarily, astronomy and physics majors will be using the observatory,” Pritzl said. “Part of the reason is because it is on the roof of Halsey and there is certain safety regulations that go with that. It’s something we unfortunately can’t take groups up [to].”

Pritzl said, however, that he hopes to have students in astronomy classes take part in the control room.

“It is something I am hoping we can use in the classroom to take photos,” Pritzl said. “The control room is actually on the third floor of Halsey, so we could bring in students that way for a class.”

As far as the Buckstaff Planetarium on campus, Pritzl said he hopes the building does not have to stay vacant for much longer.

“Funding has been approved at some level for it, now the issue is finding bidders that will be able to come in and renovate in that budget,” Pritzl said. “Once that is sorted out with the vendor staying within the budget, we are good to go.”

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Outreach Director Samara Hamze said there had been previous roadblocks with the renovation of the planetarium that came from the UW System budget. Since then, Hamze said they have solved this budget problem and are ready to go ahead.

“There has been new life breathed into this project,” Hamze said. “The chancellor really wanted to move forward with this. He wanted to see this space not only be a great academic resource, but a multi-use resource.”

Pritzl said the planetarium would bring a lot of new uses to campus.

“For my astronomy classes, I think it is something I can design into a couple labs. I would like to get students from the classroom into a more interactive setting,” Pritzl said. “For general students, we are hoping to run shows for them. The plan is that the projection system that we have in there might be able to show movies as well.”

Christopherson said he is thrilled to have important academic building being constructed and renovated on campus and how that it will positively affect UWO academic research programs.

“I think it gives students more support to step outside the box and to experience the real thing,” Christopherson said. “It gives students real life experiences.”

As far as the Buckstaff Planetarium on campus, Pritzl said he hopes the building does not have to stay vacant for much longer.

“Funding has been approved at some level for it,” Pritzl said. “Now the issue is finding bidders that will be able to come in and renovate in that budget.”

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Outreach Director Samara Hamze said there had been previous roadblocks with the renovation of the planetarium that came from the UW System budget.

“There has been new life breathed into this project,” Hamze said. “The chancellor really wanted to move forward with this. He wanted to see this space not only be a great academic resource, but a multi-use resource.”

Pritzl said the planetarium would bring a lot of new uses to campus.

“For my astronomy classes, I think it is something I can design into a couple labs,” Pritzl said. “For general students, we are hoping to run movies for them.”

Christopherson said he is thrilled to have important academic buildings being built.

“I think it gives students more support to step outside the box and to experience the real thing,” Christopherson said. “It gives students real-life experiences.”

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Independent Student Newspaper of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
New observatory, updated planetarium among changes for astronomy dept.