Stargazing at UW

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The Gustav Bakos Observatory on the roof of the Physics building allows the public to use the university’s high-powered telescope without drying up their life savings. 

Named in honour of the first astronomer at the University of Waterloo, the Gustav Bakos Observatory has been used for astronomical research and student assignments since 1967. 

Although the observatory is outdated, all equipment is still fully functional  — its sole purpose these days is for public outreach. The facility offers free tours to the public on the first Wednesday of every month, which includes a lecture on astronomy followed by the opportunity to check out the observatory dome and look through the telescope.

Robert Henderson, the observatory co-ordinator and conductor of the public tours, said he wants the events to “bring people onto campus, and to be able to teach science to the general public.

“This is a unique thing to do on campus; you should do it once while going to school here,” Henderson said. “If you want to look at the night sky or space through a telescope, use the facilities available here, because you won’t be able to [once you graduate].”

The first part of the public tour is a 30-minute space science lecture that takes place in PHY 308. Henderson uses an interactive 3-D software called Stellarium in his lesson, which allows the users to zoom in on and explore over 120,000 stars in a realistic virtual planetarium. He uses the program to point out constellations and explain his lesson, which ends with a Q-and-A session. 

The observers then make their way up the stairs to a small dome, where participants take turns to look through the telescope. The weather on March 4 did not allow for a great viewing, with clouds covering the entire sky and the moon poking through only half the time — the stars were practically invisible. Viewers on this night were unable to spot anything through the lenses other than an enormous blurry white circle, which was supposedly the moon. 

Additional tours and special astronomical events can be booked free of charge, allowing stargazers to look into the sky at any time. 

 
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