By Wesley Walter
Montevallo’s Astronomy Club held its first meeting since March of 2020 on Wednesday, Sept. 22.
The meeting lasted from 7-9:30 p.m. and featured views of the night sky from the university’s James Wylie Shepherd Observatory. This meeting marked the first time the club has met since the beginning of the pandemic and its former advisor, Dr. Michael Sterner, retired.
Due to social distancing protocols, the club could not meet after schools initially shut down statewide in March 2020.
Club President, Evelena Teran, expressed disappointment over these restrictions, saying, “They just shut us down. They said most clubs were put under restrictions. Like you had to have online stuff and you couldn’t have food which was a big part of the club atmosphere. Because clubs are really designed to curate a community among people and it’s really hard to do that when you can’t have that in-person interaction.”
These restrictions stayed in place during the 2020-2021 school year. However, with the university fully open and in-person for the fall 2021 semester, the club is able to resume meeting again.
Teran expressed gratitude for the resumption of club activities. “We’re really glad that we’re back,” said Teran. “I personally love the observatory so much because it’s something completely separate from the rest of my life. It’s just so relaxing and it’s so quiet out there. I feel like there’s so much going on – I’m such a busy person and just being out there for that hour and a half or two hours I’m just like ah… peace.”
Additionally, observatory repairs delayed club meetings. During the summer of 2021, the observatory’s shutter could not close, putting the telescope inside at risk of being damaged by the elements. It was repaired during the summer of 2021.
“That was one of the benefits of COVID,” said Teran. “It allowed us that time to maintain some of those things that had been slowly breaking down but we didn’t have the time to fix so that gave us some time to fix it all up and get all that ready”
James Wylie Shepherd Observatory is located at 1093 Pebble Road in Montevallo, just three miles from campus. Since the observatory’s completion in 2008, it has been operated by the Astronomy Club.
The observatory was built on a former landfill site and is the largest publicly accessible observatory in the state of Alabama. It is equipped with a 20-inch PlaneWave CDK20 telescope on a Chronos HD 32 Harmonic Mount which sits under a fully robotic 20.5 – foot diameter observatory dome.
The club is also equipped with a solar scope used for viewing the sun and a smaller telescope that is primarily used for viewing the moon.
During the meeting, attendees were able to view Jupiter and its three moons, the Andromeda galaxy, the star Vega, the double star Albireo and the M13 globular cluster through the observatory’s telescope.
Teran emphasized that meetings are not only open to Montevallo students, saying, “We’re free and open to the public and by the public we mean not just people from the university. We mean people from the town, people from other cities and people from other universities.”
The observatory has gained attention across the state, with the University of Alabama’s Astronomical Society planning a trip to Montevallo on the weekend of Oct. 1 to tour the observatory and utilize its telescope.
Club meetings are generally planned for every other Wednesday with some variation in meeting time based on if there is a full moon, which makes the stars dimmer in the night sky, or if there is a particular astronomical event the club wants to see.
The next club meeting is currently planned for Wednesday, Oct. 6.