Bethune-Cookman College’s Astronomical Observatory

by Philip C. Steffey

Past:  The dome and the enclosed 14-inch aperture, Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope made by Celestron, were installed in the late 1980’s.  But mechanical and electrical problems, and a great increase in brightness of the local night sky  due to multiplying artificial lights in Daytona Beach, restricted the ‘scope’s usage to less than hoped for most of the ‘90’s.

In 1999,  members of the Daytona Beach branch of the Central Florida Astronomical Society helped B-CC faculty and other employees fix the most important operational defects.  Nighttime and daytime observing sessions during the next two years yielded impressive views of the Moon, bright planets (Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn), the Sun, also bright double stars and a few star clusters.  These objects alone could  be useful for educational presentations.  In November 2000 the CFAS club, then meeting monthly  in a B-CC classroom near the telescope, disbanded, and work with and on the facility wound down for two years.   The main new accomplishment was installing a personal computer in the dome, which could display star charts and had other potential uses.   

Present:  In early 2003, two of us returned to the observatory, encouraged by increased faculty interest and equipped with a new accessory--a color video camera that could produce (and record) images on a monitor for many people to view simultaneously and more comfortably than through the telescope’s eyepiece.  During the summer we held two Sun-viewing sessions for B-CC students, and in late August and early September we held Mars-viewing sessions for the public and for small groups of visitors.  Funding for needed observing accessories was obtained and some are already in use.  Neglected electrical and mechanical repair work has resumed.  An Internet Webpage has been developed with photographs of the observatory and telescope, pictures of astronomical objects observed, and a schedule of planned viewing sessions and other activities.

Future:   In November and beyond, Saturn, Jupiter, then Venus will attain favorable, evening sky positions.  (Venus also is a good daytime object, and Mercury is a possibility, to complement the Sun.)  With a new, dedicated TV camera, we can image and record several solar system objects for replay on B-CC classroom monitors.  Direct, real-time transmission to a large classroom or lecture hall, for large audiences (students or public), is feasible.  Besides educational support, modest research observations are possible with existing equipment, including video-to-digital image-conversion equipment recently made available.

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