Observatory Takes Students to the Stars and Beyond

Unknown to many, there is a small group of buildings tucked away behind the Liberty Equestrian Center, made visible in the night only by the red light pouring through the windows. 

This hidden gem is the Liberty Astronomical Observatory. On the mostly clear and freezing night of Oct. 26, the student workers of the observatory gathered to give a tour. Any Liberty student, faculty member or member of the general public can visit the observatory free of charge. 

First, the student workers take guests outside, where two telescopes point towards Jupiter and four of its moons and to the rings of Saturn, millions of miles away. The student workers also point out the constellations dancing in the sky overhead. If the night is dark enough, observers might even be able to see the Andromeda galaxy — the closest galaxy to the Milky Way. 

Observatory manager and Liberty graduate Jakob Sauppe said that something interesting he learned while working at the observatory was “the motions of the planets and how they move across the sky each year. Venus, for instance, actually stays in the evening sky for a long time.”

Secondly, upon heading back inside, a student will continue the tour by giving a presentation about the solar system, allowing guests to ask questions and learn more about the intricate world God created. Guests will be able to see digitally-rendered images of all the planets, their moons, asteroids, stars, the sun and other objects in space. 

Visitors will be sure to leave with something new they learned during their trip to the observatory. When asked about his favorite space fact, Sauppe said it was “being able to fly on Titon,” which is one of Saturn’s moons. Titon has only 13% of what Earth’s gravity constitutes, and since it has a “slightly thicker atmosphere,” you could “flap your arms and fly if you wanted.”  

Lastly, guests will be led into the dome — a different building that houses the 24-inch DFM Engineering telescope. It is the largest telescope in the region and, unlike many other observatories, the public is offered the chance to look into this telescope and see stars and planets up-close. 

“It’s really cool that we get to introduce the night sky to people,” Sauppe said.

The team members at the observatory work to teach visitors not just about the sky above them but how to also see and appreciate the beauty in it. 

Besides Sauppe, all of the observatory team members are students at Liberty. None of them are majoring in mathematics or taking any astronomy classes. A variety of majors such as American Sign Language, mechanical engineering and psychology are represented. 

Despite the variety of educational backgrounds, what brings everyone together is the love of astronomy. Even if they have no experience, Liberty students are encouraged to work at the observatory, either for CSER or work study.

Sauppe is responsible for everyday tasks like managing the Facebook and registration pages, communicating with guests, creating schedules and overseeing the operations. He said his favorite part about the job is the “ability to go outside and look at the night sky on a daily basis.”

Sauppe said that winter is the best season for stargazing. He explained that the humidity in the air decreases the colder it grows, which makes the sky clearer. He also described how the winter night sky tends to have the “brightest stars” and most “interesting deep-sky objects.” 

Sauppe recommended that visitors go to the observatory when there are no clouds and the moon is not out.

For more information, you can visit the LU Astronomical Observatory Facebook page.

Bear is a feature writer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *