Star light, star bright (8:31 p.m.)

Published 9:31 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Looking up into the heavens, at distant galaxies light years away, is a humbling experience for University of Montevallo sophomore Jeremy Dunn.

“It’s a whole new perspective on the universe,” Dunn said. “You realize how small we are.”

Dunn and about 15 other students gather at 8 p.m. for some serious stargazing. Science students, as well as members of the UM Astronomy Club, meet once a week.

“I really enjoy learning about the stars I’ve seen my whole life,” Dunn said. “Now, I know what they are, where they are, what they are called.”

Dunn signed up for an astronomy course in Montevallo’s honors program because he wants to learn more about the science. He worries young people today aren’t learning enough about astronomy.

“I feel like a big part of human existence is knowing about the sky … back to antiquity,” Dunn said.

Students’ viewing ability will soon be amplified many times over. The university will soon open its new observatory, equipped with a 20-inch scope.

The fully robotic scope sits inside a 20.5-foot dome. Its technology allows users to type in a star’s position on a laptop, while the lens automatically focuses on that celestial body.

“It’s one of the best scopes in the Southeast,” said Dr. Michael Patton, philosophy professor.

It’s also one of two handicapped-accessible telescopes of its size in the country. A ramp winds around the dome to the scope, which can be raised or lowered by hydraulics. Plans are to open the observatory to high schoolers, scientists, researchers and the general public as often as possible.

“I hope it demystifies science and makes people want to learn it,” Patton said. “There’s nothing like watching people look into a telescope for the first time. Whether they are 4 or 40, it ignites a natural curiosity. That is what we are all about as a university.”