October 3, 2014

Clear skies for stargazers: Ryerson gets new dome

An observatory once used by the late Carl Sagan is, once again, fully operational.

The Observatory on the roof of Ryerson Hall has been plagued by its dysfunctional seventy-year-old dome, which fell into disrepair over time, but its recent renovation has students and faculty once again stargazing with ease.

The dome allows the observatory’s telescope to function properly, but large amounts of rust made the Observatory almost completely unusable by 2012. The Ryerson Astronomical Society (RAS), a RSO dedicated to astronomy that operates out of Ryerson and has existed since the 1950s, worked with the University to replace the dome.

According to University spokesman Steve Koppes, the new dome was constructed by Ash Manufacturing Inc. from June 30 to July 3, at a cost of $21,900, which was paid for out of University funds rather than through RSO funding.

The dome was built around 1937, although the actual completion date is unknown. Since that time, neither the dome nor the telescope had been rebuilt or replaced.

“The previous dome could not open. It was trapping a historic telescope inside; the [RAS] could not use it.  Even when it opened all-right, it was difficult to use—requiring manually rotating the dome,” Assistant Astronomy and Astrophysics professor Daniel Fabrycky wrote in an email.

RAS head dome engineer and third-year Tahoe Schrader explained the importance of the dome to the function of the Observatory.

“The way telescopes work is that they are housed in a dome to protect it from the weather and from extraneous light sources. A small hatch in the dome should be able to open and close so the telescope can look out of it. The entire dome then needs to be able to move 360 degrees latitude so you can see the entire horizon,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The new dome has a motor that can move the dome automatically instead of manually. In addition, the door for the telescope is “easy to open,” according to Fabrycky, utilizing a garage door–like system.

The telescope itself, which was installed soon after the original dome was built, was not replaced in the recent construction.

“It is an old observational telescope that only has real use these days by hobbyists, rather than for science,” Schrader wrote.

The telescope was used by famous astronomer Carl Sagan during his time at the University in the 1950s. Sagan recorded many observations during his use of the telescope. These, along with many other observations made during the telescope’s tenure, are kept in archives by the RAS.

Students can access the now fully functioning observatory during public Wednesday night viewings or by becoming members of the RAS.