With His Eyes Toward the Heavens and Still Grounded
Throughout his long and successful career, Dr. Bob Powell, professor and chair of the Physics Department and director of the UWG Observatory, has remained awed by the heavens.
“The heavens are beautiful and there is a great deal of excitement,” Powell said recently.
And he still has a lot of things to do.
Although funds are scarce these days, Powell would like to find money to enlarge the existing observatory that houses a 16-inch computerized telescope. Powell designed the current building, which is packed with smaller telescopes for public viewing.
Ideally, the expanded facility would have a meeting room for lectures and slide shows on cloudy nights, when sky viewing is impossible.
“That’s something that would be nice,” Powell said.
Something else on his wish list: a solar research facility. But that, too, is off the table because of scarce funds.
In any case, bringing the heavens to students is his primary goal. Although the Internet has made it easy to find high-quality, color images of objects in the universe, there is nothing like seeing the sky through the lens of a telescope.
“As in the beginning, the groups that we have today are often just amazed at what they are able to see through our telescopes,” Powell said.
“It’s something interesting to look through a telescope and see the light from the central part of the Andromeda galaxy and realize that light has been travelling for over two million years to get to us,” he said.
The first astronomy class at West Georgia was in 1969. After the courses began, Powell knew the school needed an observatory. He wrote a successful proposal to the National Science Foundation to buy a 14-inch telescope.
Afterward, Powell designed the building to house the telescope. The school’s facilities and maintenance personnel constructed the structure. In the fall of 1979 the West Georgia Observatory went into operation.
That first October night the telescope was turned to the western sky. The light of the first objects in the sky viewers saw was from M13, a globular cluster in the Hercules constellation, and the planetary nebula, M57.
“Those two objects have been special to me ever since,” Powell said.
That telescope was used for classes, student projects and public observations for years. Then, in October 2009, it was replaced with the 16-inch computerized Meade telescope.
This image of M57, a planetary nebula in the constellation Lyra, was taken from the UWG Observatory by Robert Moore, the physics lab coordinator. It is about 4,000 light years away from us.
That fall night, the Meade was turned again to the globular cluster, M13, and the planetary nebula, M57, in the Lyra constellation.
The light from M57 has been travelling toward Earth for about 4,000 years, Powell said.
“That means the light we are receiving now left that planetary nebula a little bit before Abraham was wandering around the land of Canaan,” Powell said. “That’s somewhat of an amazement to me.”
The observatory is the site of monthly skyward public viewings when school is in session. Three remain for this school year: March 14, April 18 and May 9.
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