June 15, 2016 : By Melissa Skinner
During the summer months, the Lynchburg community has the opportunity to see Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and other views from the sky at the Liberty University Astronomical Observatory, located off of Sunnymeade Road near the back of the Liberty Equestrian Center grounds.
The observatory opened during the Fall 2013 semester with a lab building and rolling enclosure covering 8-inch Celestron telescopes. In Summer 2014, the university installed the 24-inch DFM Engineering telescope, which is considered to be the largest telescope in the region.
Dr. Scott Long, director of the observatory, said that the DFM Engineering telescope sits about one story off the ground, giving it better view of the sky than one sitting on the ground. Long added that the smaller telescopes have their own advantages with their clear and wide field of view, which is useful to see the moon, the large nebulae, and double stars.
“Astronomy is a subject that fascinates a wide range of people,” Long said. “It is inspiring, and even surprising, to see the planets, nebulae, and galaxies for the first time with your own eyes. It keeps many coming back again and again to see what is new in the sky.”
Long said that while guests are at the observatory, the staff educates them on the constellations and stars they will see prior to using the telescopes.
“The summer night sky will not disappoint,” he said. “It will be possible to see Sagittarius and Scorpius and many other summer constellations, as well as some interesting double stars and globular clusters, which are like micro-galaxies, in the orbit of the Milky Way galaxy.”
The observatory is open on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 9 p.m.-12 a.m. Liberty students, faculty, and staff are welcome anytime and can bring guests. Later this month, interested members of the community can register for a limited number of tickets to each night’s opening on a first come, first served basis on the observatory’s forthcoming website. There is no cost for anyone to attend.
In addition to the observatory, there are other activities and facilities on campus that will remain open to the public during the summer.
Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, the year-round snowless ski slope, will continue to offer skiing, snowboarding, and tubing during summer hours: Monday-Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; and Sunday, 2-8 p.m.
Liberty Mountain Skate Park, located in Candlers Station shopping center, will be open Tuesday-Saturday from 2-10 p.m. and Sunday from 2-8 p.m.
With more than 50 miles of single- and double-track trails on approximately 5,000 acres, the Liberty Mountain Trail System is open to the public for both hiking and mountain biking during daylight hours.
The Liberty Farmer’s Market, which features produce from Liberty’s Morris Campus Farm as well as local food, produce, and crafts from area vendors, will be open every Thursday throughout the summer from 3:30-6 p.m. in the Doc’s parking lot.
In addition to the various activities, the public can also visit Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, located on the first floor of Residential Commons I. Summer hours are Monday-Friday from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekends. Chick-fil-A, located in the Tilley Student Center, is open weekdays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Starbucks, located in the Jerry Falwell Library, is also open weekdays from 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
The Hancock Welcome Center is open to the public Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday from noon-6 p.m. Additionally, visitors can receive guided tours of Liberty’s growing campus on select dates during Friendly Friday and My Liberty Monday events.