The Sky's the Limit


Erik Davies '14, Antwain Morgan '15 and Dr. Tyler Nordgren.

The stars are within reach for University of Redlands students, thanks to the automated telescope on the roof of Appleton Hall.

The Astronomy Student Taylor Robotic Observatory (ASTRO) was created through a series of gifts by the Taylor family of Redlands, whose son, Michael, graduated in 1986. In 2011, a dome was purchased to protect part of the astronomy deck, followed by a computerized mount. In 2012, an eight-inch diameter reflecting telescope was installed on the mount inside the dome. ASTRO is used for research and education projects by students and faculty, including taking astrophotography, observing supernovas, and looking for planets around stars.

“It’s great for the University to have,” Antwain Morgan ‘15 said. “Just the amount of projects you could do is worth the amount of money you put into it.”

Morgan was so impressed by ASTRO that it’s one of the reasons why he decided to attend the University.

“When I first came here I thought, ‘I will be working on this telescope,’” he said. “It was something I always wanted to do, and one of the factors of me coming to Redlands. I visited other schools and didn’t see that many. It’s amazing; M13 [a globular cluster of roughly 300,000 stars] was the first thing I looked at, and I had never seen it before. The picture came up beautifully.”

Students are not only able to use ASTRO for research purposes, but can also learn the technical side of things. Last year, students worked together to write a manual explaining how to operate and also fix the telescope.

“It took a surprising amount of hours to put it together,” Erik Davies ’14 said. “It is several pages, but we tried to be as clear as possible.”

“One of the goals I have is to choose two students for the summer – one an upperclassman and one an underclassman – so they can keep passing down that knowledge,” Dr. Tyler Nordgren, professor of physics at the University of Redlands, said 

ASTRO is used year round, but weather conditions are ideal in summer and fall, when there are fewer clouds and the nights are shorter. In 2013, Morgan and Davies used ASTRO to detect exoplanets while taking part in the Student Summer Science Research Program.

“Dr. Nordgren gave us a few books to read, and when we first started it was a lot to take in, but once you get up and start working you get settled in,” Morgan said. “It was a good experience over the summer.”

Both Morgan and Davies have long been interested in astronomy, and want to go on to earn their PhDs – Morgan in astrophysics, Davies in physics.

“I always wanted to work on a telescope,” Davies said. “I thought it was so cool.”

“As long as I can remember, astronomy was what I wanted to do,” Morgan said. “I was five years old, and I remember looking up at the sky at night and thinking how amazing it was.”

As the astronomy program continues to grow – the University will have five majors graduate this year, above the national average – more and more students will have the opportunity to take advantage of everything ASTRO has to offer.

“It really is in the perfect location,” Nordgren said. “You would be amazed by what we can see by this telescope here in Redlands.”

Posted: Jan. 16, 2014
Written by: Catherine Garcia

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