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History of the Observatory
The UMBC Observatory was first opened just before the Summer of 1999. It was funded as part of the UMBC Physics Building construction. It was originally conceived by Professor-Emeritus Dr. Harvey Melfi–the then director of the Joint Center for Earthsystems Technology (JCET). After Dr. Melfi’s retirement, duty of care was passed to a core group of faculty at UMBC that continue to administer the UMBC Observatory Group and its projects.
The UMBC Observatory was originally three-fold.
The primary goal of the UMBC Observatory was to complement the rich variety of atmospheric physics research done at UMBC. To do this, our telescope was designed to ‘heel’ completely over! This means that it can look all the way to the horizon–a feat normally difficult to engineer and impractical for astronomical telescopes. The telescope would then serve as the receiver for laser light. In this way, the UMBC Telescope would serve as a LIDAR Telescope, receiving back-scattered light from powerful lasers. This light would originate from the UMBC Physics Building and travel through the atmosphere. During its travels, it would scatter off of particles (bounce off of particles) in the atmosphere. Some of this light would come back to the UMBC Physics Building. Some of this back-scattered light would be collected by our telescope and be of use to atmospheric scientists attempting to learn about the conditions of our atmosphere.
Another goal of the UMBC Observatory is to assist in astronomical observations. The telescope is a large-aperture, research-grade telescope. This means that it is excellent at collecting light. In a poetic sort of way, astronomers have learned almost everything they know about our Universe by analyzing the light collected with optical devices not unlike our telescope. The trick is to get the light form the objects or the events that you want. The very atmosphere whose analysis was the primary goal of the UMBC Observatory makes some objects very difficult to observe from UMBC.
The final goal of the UMBC Observatory is to deliver public outreach programs on topics in astronomy. In the early 2010s, UMBC Observatory Open Houses began. These Open Houses have grown to include a lecture on astronomy and a tour of the facility. During an Open House night–if the skies are clear–the UMBC Observatory Group can show guests how the telescope is used to gather light from our atmosphere and beyond. Since our telescope is digital, public observation of objects is usually delegated to more compact optical telescopes. The UMBC Observatory Group also prepares special lectures and events for astronomical events such as eclipses, meteor showers, and various other phenomena.
Please look around our site and learn everything there is to know about our facility and how you can get involved as a member of the community in and around UMBC.