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Students to see farther

January 09, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Like a scene out of a Star Wars movie, Jason Best turns a key on the Fiberglas dome and a powerized door begins to slide open. He peeks inside and shows off the work that has been done so far on an astronomical observatory that is being built on a roof of a building at Shepherd University.

Shepherd officials announced in October that they would be building the observatory on the roof of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

Astronomy is taught to Shepherd students as part of its general sciences curriculum and, until now, students have used three small telescopes and another larger one that was given to the school by the 1998 senior class, said Best, associate professor of astrophysics.

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Now comes the Meade LX200 GPS telescope, the one that will be installed in the observatory. The telescope will be about twice as powerful as the other telescopes, said Best.

Best is excited about the observatory's possibilities, and said the study of space satisfies a basic quest of man.

"People, by their nature, are curious," said Best.

The new telescope will also be equipped with a digital camera, Best said.

The camera will allow students to "stitch" photographs together, allowing for the creation of larger, more detailed photographs of space objects, Best said.

Work started on the observatory last year, and special attention was paid to details such as making sure the structure was placed in a way that would not cause any leaks in the roof, said Best.

That is important, given the items contained in the center.

Not only does the building house the school's library, but it also contains space to store papers that U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., has written during his years in public service.

The support piece that will cradle the telescope has been installed and other work that remains to be completed is construction of a walkway that will allow students and visitors to easily access the observatory from a door on the rooftop, Best said.

The observatory's dome is 15 feet wide and about 15 feet high. The top rotates, which will allow students to scan the skies to search for subject matter, Best said.

Besides using the observatory for college study, Best said he plans to open the facility to the public and public school students.

School officials have said opening the observatory to public school students will be beneficial to schools like the planned second high school next to the Huntfield development, which will have an emphasis on science education.

Best said he expects the observatory to be ready for use sometime in the spring.

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