Northwestern State University is restoring its astronomical observatory and hopes to offer programs for students and the public. NSU’s School of Biological and Physical Sciences is acquiring new equipment for the observatory, a large dome structure located on the roof of Fournet Hall, and working towards making the facility functional for study and astrophotography.
Dr. Chad Thibodeaux, assistant professor of chemistry, who is spearheading the initiative, installed a new 10-inch telescope that will be ready for students in the spring semester.
“We hope to use it for our astronomy class, which is required for all science ed majors, but we want to open it up to other majors as well,” said Thibodeaux, who would like to install a CCD camera on the scope that is capable of astrophotography and photometry, measuring the brightness of stars. By itself the CCD only takes black and white photos and Thibodeaux would like to add a filter wheel and filters for photography and photometry. Right now, the camera on the scope has a webcam imager that can image solar system objects like the moon and planets. Thibodeaux also acquired a Coronado PST solar telescope made especially for viewing the sun. The solar scope has special filters that allow only a certain type of light through to see features on the sun like filaments, sun spots and prominences.
“We could have stargazing nights that are open to the public and summer camps for kids,” he said. Natchitoches has little light pollution, so viewers can peer into the sky and clearly see galaxy clusters and other celestial bodies.
According to Dr. Francene Lemoine, director of the School of Biological and Physical Sciences, the observatory was last used about 10 years ago and she is hopeful that former students and/or faculty may come forward with information, stories or pictures of when it was in use.
Thibodeaux said his spring classes are filling up and he is exploring grants that could be utilized towards refurbishing the observatory. Donations to support the observatory, including naming opportunities, can be made through the NSU Foundation.
For more information on the observatory, contact Thibodeaux at email@example.com or Lemoine at firstname.lastname@example.org.