Dartmouth, MA—Get up close and personal with the stars. Weather permitting, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Observatory will be open for public viewing of the night sky on select Monday evenings. Unless otherwise noted, the viewings will begin at 7:30 p.m. on September 29, October 20, November 17, December 1, January 26, February 23, March 22, April 26 (at 8:30 p.m.) and May 10 (at 8:30 p.m.).
Observations of the moon, planets, and other celestial objects will be carried out using the Observatory’s 16-inch telescope. Children are welcome. There is no admission charge for this event, although donations to the Observatory Development Fund are encouraged.
The UMass Dartmouth Observatory is located in the field adjacent to the campus entrance. Parking is available in designated spaces along Ring Road or in lot 17. For further details, contact Professor Alan Hirshfeld at (508) 999-8715 or email@example.com.
Upon his arrival at UMass Dartmouth (then Southeastern Massachusetts University) in 1978, Professor Alan Hirshfeld’s goal was to add an astronomy component to the physics curriculum. For nighttime observing, students made use of a small portable telescope. In a stroke of luck, Professor Hirshfeld discovered that a brand new Celestron 14-inch reflector telescope was still in its original packing crate underneath some equipment in a lab, where it had sat since the early 1970s.
Together with Prof. Fred Law in the Civil Engineering Department, Dr. Hirshfeld worked with a group of students to design and build a facility to house the University's "new" telescope. Funds for materials were raised from a number of university and private organizations and students provided the labor free. The shell of the building was completed in the mid-1980s, and the interior in the years afterward. After a number of unsuccessful attempts, a consulting engineer from the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard installed a working dome-rotation mechanism in 1992. "First light" was achieved during the fall of 1993.
The National Science Foundation (NSF), recognizing the extraordinary cooperative effort that gave birth to the Observatory, twice granted funds to purchase research-grade accessory equipment for the telescope. The telescope functioned well for several years but began to have problems in the late 1990's, due to the toll the unheated Observatory took on the custom-made control electronics.
“I packed up the controller circuit board, with the intention of sending it back to the manufacturer for an expensive diagnosis and repair,” said Hirshfeld. “As I got up from my desk to mail the package, Joseph Dowd, a physics major, arrived at my office with some extraordinary news: he intended to donate a new telescope to replace the Observatory's old one.”
That telescope—a 16-inch-aperture, state-of-the-art, computer-controlled reflector by Meade— now resides in the UMass Dartmouth Observatory.
Concerning the telescope donation, Joseph Dowd said: "I wanted to provide something to both benefit the astronomy portion of the physics curriculum and provide a useful tool for the students and the community. Also, with graduate school in mind, I wanted to have the physical resources available to further my own personal interests." The observatory was officially named the Joseph and Ouida Dowd (JOD) Observatory by the Physics Department in the spring of 2000. The Observatory is currently replacing its wooden dome with a new fiberglass dome, the result of a recent successful fund-raising effort.