URI to dedicate telescopes, observatory with event Nov. 14 as part of Alton Jones Campus 50th anniversary

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Public program includes night hikes, campfire chats, night sky observation

WEST GREENWICH, R.I. – October 18, 2012 – The University of Rhode Island will dedicate the telescopes and observatory at its W. Alton Jones Campus on Nov. 14 with an event called First Light. Activities will include nighttime hikes, campfire chats about astronomy, and viewings of the night sky through two high-powered telescopes (weather permitting).

The event, part of the 50th anniversary of the campus, begins at 7 p.m. at the campus’ Nettie Marie Jones Nature Preserve. It is free and open to the public.

“When you look through a telescope and see the moons of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn, it’s a life-changing experience in that you’ll never look at the night sky the same way ever again,” said Thomas Mitchell, director of the Alton Jones Campus and an astronomy enthusiast. “Once you know something about the mythology of the constellations and the arrangement of the stars, it will change your life.”

Following a brief speaking program and ribbon-cutting featuring URI officials and students, visitors will be invited to participate in a variety of activities designed to learn about the nocturnal world and the night sky. Two short, guided hikes along trails through the campus will seek out evidence of nocturnal creatures. Visitors may also attend discussions around two campfires on the subjects of astronomy and constellation folklore. Exhibits about astronomy-related student research will also be on display.

The focus of the event, however, will be on viewing the moon, planets and stars through the eight-inch and ten-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, with the guidance of URI physics students and faculty members. The professional-grade telescopes, one located inside the campus observatory and one on a large outside viewing deck, can provide clear views of craters on the moon, prominent features of the Mars landscape, the rings of Saturn, the satellites of Jupiter, and observations of galaxies beyond our Earth’s solar system.

URI Physics Professor Emeritus Jan Northby purchased the telescopes with University funds to support the teaching of astronomy courses. The telescopes are also regularly used with school groups and summer camp programs, and they have become popular components of corporate conferences held at the nearby Whispering Pines Conference Center.

“We anticipate that the observatory will help encourage student interest in science, since there has always been a fascination with Earth’s moon and our solar system, as well as what exists beyond,” said Winnie Brownell, dean of the URI College of Arts and Sciences. “Ultimately, we would like to establish a scientific visualization center on both the Kingston and Alton Jones campuses with computers and downloads from the Hubble and perhaps other telescopes to provide students and teachers with impressive views of the galaxy.”

“In the coming years we hope to provide many more opportunities for Rhode Islanders to visit the campus, use the telescopes, and learn more about the night sky,” added Mitchell. “I know there is a great deal of interest in the subject, and since we are located in the darkest part of the state, the Alton Jones Campus is the perfect place for it.”

For more information or to register to attend the First Light program, visit bit.ly/R3etW5 or call 401-874-9455, rsvp@uri.edu. Participants are encouraged to dress for the outdoors, consider the weather, and bring a flashlight.

The program is sponsored by the URI W. Alton Jones Campus, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Physics, and the Division of Administration and Finance.