A “STELLAR” DAY FOR STARGAZERS AT THE MUSEUM! THE PALMER OBSERVATORY RE-OPENS AFTER LAYING DORMANT FOR 30 YEARS
Project was a Labor of Love Made Possible by the Generosity of Volunteers and Donors
Hidden away in the corner of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, lies The Palmer Observatory. Shuttered and in disrepair since the mid-1980s, this important educational tool and community staple is about to re-open to the general public with many exciting upgrades. A Grand-Opening Celebration with donors, volunteers, and Trustees to commemorate this major milestone is scheduled for Monday, October 5 at 11:00 AM on the Mission Canyon campus of the Museum. The event will include a brief program, behind-the-scenes tour of the Observatory, and refreshments.
History of The Palmer Observatory:
The Museum’s Doris Faye Palmer Observatory opened on August 1, 1968 with a celebration that drew 400 visitors and included a demonstration via closed circuit television which enabled a large group to view the entire field using the then-new telescope - cutting edge technology at the time. From 1968 until early this century, the Observatory operated intermittently due to problems with the telescope which was replaced several times and finally removed in 2004. At that time, it was noted that the roof of the Observatory, as well as the sliding structure of the dome, were in need of replacement. Since 2004, the Observatory has been used as storage for Santa Barbara City College and the Astronomical Unit, and in recent years as a makeshift classroom during Star Parties. In 2007, Wayne Rosing, Founder, CEO, and Chief Engineer of Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGTN), expressed his desire to support science education in his home town by committing to donate a powerful telescope to the Museum. However, the Museum would have to renovate the Observatory first. In 2013, Fred Marschak received in donation a 14-foot 6-inch, 2,250-pound re-purposed Ash-Dome based in Tucson, Arizona to replace the current roof on the Observatory. The Ash-Dome was delivered to the Museum by volunteers from the Astronomical Unit in collaboration with staff of the Geological Sciences Department of Santa Barbara City College who disassembled, transported, and re-assembled the dome. That same year, John Martinez, Senior Project Manager at LCOGTN, announced the donation of a 20” RCOS Ritchey-Chrétien Telescope and PlaneWave mounting system. The Ash-Dome was installed on August 12 of this year and features a telescope viewing opening that rotates a full 360 degrees for telescope viewing.
“Being a resident here in Santa Barbara, it was personally important for me to support the Museum in a way that would be meaningful to our community,” said Wayne Rosing, Founder/CEO/Chief Engineer of LCOGTN. “This powerful telescope and computerized mounting will serve to open the doors (night sky and Sun!) for all those who want to learn more about the universe, or just to star-gaze, for a long time to come.” Photo of the Museum’s new 20” RCOS Ritchey-Chrétien Telescope
Background of The Gladwin Planetarium: The Gladwin Planetarium opened its doors in 1957 and its original Spitz A1 projector brought the stars to tens of thousands of visitors until its renovation in the late 1970s. With a Spitz A3P, affectionately named ‘Alice’, the Planetarium continued to bring the marvels of the universe to our visitors. In 2005, with the generous support of Victor Atkins and others, the Planetarium was again remodeled, this time with a Digistar 3 SP full-dome digital projection system which allows visitors to take a virtual flight through the stars. Other renovations included a digital Astro-FX automation system, an LED cove-lighting system, a new surround-sound system, and new theater-style seats. In 2009, Mr. Atkins continued his support of the Space Sciences program with a donation to support the purchase of the Magic Planet education system, found in the Space Lab. Moreover, in 2011, with Mr. Atkin’s support the Museum further upgraded the Planetarium system to a Digistar 5 projector. The Gladwin Planetarium is the only one found between LA and San Francisco About The Astronomical Unit (AU): The group was originally founded in 1955 by several people including Captain Crutchfield Adair. The name was later changed to Santa Barbara Astronomy Club (SBAC) and some members went on to form the Santa Barbara Instruments Group, today one of the most prominent makers of astronomical imaging devices. One of the SBAC members in 1975 was Dr. Alex Filippenko, currently Professor of Astronomy at UC Berkeley. The AU, as it is known today was formed in 1985 by a group of people at SBCC. Initially a student club, it eventually expanded to the general public. One of the founders of the AU was Fred Marschak, who spearheaded the Museum’s sponsorship of the club in the mid-1980’s. In 1995, SBCC broke off from the club and the remaining members managed the club and created the organization’s mission as it remains today. In 2011, Astronomy Magazine gave the AU the “Out Of This World” award as the number one astronomy club in the nation for its excellent outreach program and for the design and construction of the IC2, a specially-engineered telescope for people in wheelchairs. In 2012, Chuck McPartlin, Outreach Coordinator for the AU won the “Las Cumbres Amateur Outreach” international award for his outstanding effort in spreading science and astronomy within the community. The club currently has about 130 members who hold a meeting and a Star Party here at the Museum every month and host outreach events throughout the county – 250 nights of the year on average. In the last 5 years the AU has served approximately 60,000 individuals! During special astronomical events such as Mars approaches, lunar and solar eclipses, the AU serves between 1,000 and 3,000 visitors. Its outreach program includes visits and lectures at schools, non-profit organizations, local hotels, national parks, and even private events. The Museum values and supports this partnership and honored the AU with their Legacy Award in 2013. ”The Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit members are looking forward to assisting the Museum with Telescope and Astronomy Education and public outreach at the new Palmer Observatory,” said Tom Totton, President of the AU. “We believe that promoting Earth & Space Sciences helps everyone to feel interconnected on our trip through the Universe. And as our solar system orbits our Milky Way Galaxy at 800,000 miles per hour, and our spaceship Earth orbits the Sun at 70,000 miles per hour, many adventures await us, and prepared humans can make the trip successful.”
Why is Astronomy Important?
Astronomy is often referenced as the gateway to science education for children. The Museum’s Astronomy Program includes a planetarium with frequent star shows, educational programs for school children aligned with State standards, and a public program consisting of a monthly star gazing event. SBCC’s astronomy programs meet four times a week serving roughly 9-12 class sessions per year. The AU, has a very active local chapter in partnership with the Museum to facilitate free monthly night sky and telescope observations attended by hundreds of children and adults each month. With the re-opening of the Observatory, the Museum is poised to greatly expand their Space Sciences Program.
“We live in an amazing Universe that is literally and metaphorically expanding before our eyes,” said Javier Rivera, Manager of Astronomy Programs for MNH. “The exciting discoveries made in the last few decades have advanced our knowledge of the world to such an incredible extent. With the Museum’s educational offerings through our Space Sciences program, combined with the new telescope, our community will have the opportunity to learn and explore even more – or just simply marvel at the vast and beautiful cosmos.”
What does this mean for the Museum and Community?
With the new Observatory and its powerful telescope, MNH will improve the experiences for ALL visitors – even those confined to wheelchairs. The Museum’s technical and operational capacity will be enhanced significantly. Museum visitors, students, teachers, and casual stargazers will have the opportunity view celestial events and import data from web-linked sites of the Las Cumbres Global Observatory Telescope Network. The Museum plans to install a live-view camera on its eyepiece and feed the images to a large HDTV so school groups can get a view of the Sun as part of a new Solar System education program. Filters on the telescope will allow students to make real-time observations of our very own star. This same monitor will be used for group viewing of astronomical features captured by the telescope. The telescope will also have the ability to capture digital images that can then be imported into the 35-seat Planetarium for public presentations.
Media members are encouraged to attend the Grand Re-Opening Event and Ribbon-Cutting on Monday, October 5 at 11:00 AM. Many donors and dignitaries will be in attendance and will be speaking during the short program which will be followed by refreshments. To arrange an interview with our staff or supporters, or to request high-resolution photos or B-roll please contact Joni Kelly or Sherri Frazer at the numbers above. For more information about the Museum and Sea Center, please visit www.sbnature.org or call (805) 682-4711.
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UPCOMING STARGAZING OPPORTUNITIES:
September 27 (max. at 7:47 PM)
total lunar eclipse
October 8 (peak)
Draconids meteor shower
Star Parties: (free, dusk-10 PM) Saturday, October 10 Saturday, November 14 Saturday, December 12
AU Meetings: (free, open to the public, 7 PM in Farrand Hall) Friday, October 2 Friday, November 6 Friday, December 4