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UMass Lowell to Open New Observatory, Allowing Students, Public to See the Stars

photo of the solar system Photo by Boston Globe/ESO/M. Kornmesser
A generous donation to UMass Lowell will soon allow the public to view close-up images of our solar system.

09/18/2019
Boston Globe
By Maria Lovato

A generous donation to UMass Lowell will soon allow the public to view close-up images of our solar system.  

Students at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the public will able to view close-up images of our solar system when a new observatory opens this fall due to a generous donation, the university said.

The new Schueller Observatory, named after a late UMass Lowell alumnus and amateur astronomer, will be located on the South Campus. It will feature a donated Celestron 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope housed in a cylindrical building topped with a metal dome weighing 3,200 pounds, UMass Lowell said.

“This will help students interested in physics, as well as non-science majors and the public, in learning more about the secrets that the sky keeps in its vast stretch,” Noureddine Melikechi, dean of the Kennedy College of Sciences, said in a statement.

The telescope is one typically found in universities teaching public stargazing or owned by an advanced amateur astronomer, Silas Laycock, an associate professor in the physics department, said.

Human eyes are very small and can’t pick up on dim objects far away in the sky. This Celestron telescope will allow users to see stars, up-close images of the moon’s surface, planets, and even other galaxies up to 23 million light years away, Laycock said.

“[The telescope] allows us to see things that are very faint,” he said.

Students and faculty will be able to visit the observatory when construction is completed in mid-November. The telescope can also be operated remotely, and cameras will be attached so that students in classrooms all around campus will be able to see what is being viewed through the telescope.

“[Students] can use the telescope to gain hands-on experience before they go out and work in professional observatories,” Laycock said.

The public will be able to use the telescope for free once a month, the university said. The observatory will hold six people at a time and is wheelchair accessible.

“We plan to invite schools, libraries, and clubs in Lowell and neighboring communities to join our stargazing sessions,” Laycock said. “Physics students will be on hand to give talks and answer questions.”

Richard Schueller graduated from UMass Lowell in 1986 with a degree in physics. He went on to become a successful scientist and inventor credited with six patents and seven more in the approval process. In his spare time, he observed the skies from his backyard in Chelmsford with his Celestron telescope, the university said.

Schueller died of brain cancer in 2015. His wife, Susan, decided to donate the telescope to UMass Lowell. The university is paying for the construction of the observatory.

The Schuellers also donated an endowment to UMass Lowell so that students can afford to pursue their interest in astronomy, Laycock said.

“That was a very visionary thing the Schuellers did,” he said.