By Madeline Burbank
As student organizations on campus kick off a new year, Montevallo’s Astronomy Club is excited to be back to observing the skies in a recently renovated observatory.
The Astronomy Club meets bi-weekly—usually at the James Wylie Shepherd Observatory, though it will meet at The Tower instead in the event of a weather disruption.
According to the Astronomy Club president, Samantha Cost, meetings involve utilizing the telescope and dome of the observatory. These viewings are open to, not only the university students and faculty, but also the general public.
When meetings are disrupted by weather, whether from clouds or a storm, the meeting will instead consist of reviewing and developing upcoming plans for the Astronomy Club as well as sharing discussion of their common interest in astronomy.
The club prides itself on having one of the few Americans with Disabilities Act compliant observatories in the nation. The observatory has sidewalks and ramps leading towards it. Previously the parking lot was not accessible, which led to a project to renovate it over the summer.
Recently, the sidewalk to the observatory has been extended to the parking lot and a concrete pad has been built to allow for unloading vans — enabling full wheelchair accessibility to the observatory.
Cost said that the observatory was less than 15 years old, having been finished in 2009.
“It’s kind of new so astronomy club itself is not very old either,” she said.
However, the observatory is surrounded by woods and is not used during the summer, which sometimes leads to animal infestations. Before the club started meetings this year, faculty advisor Jessica Thomason discovered a black widow spider infestation in the observatory.
A pest control service has since “come out and handled it so there are no more,” Cost said.
So far this semester, the club’s two meetings have been held at The Tower, the latter because of a storm. According to Cost, the fall semester is usually better for viewings, though this is often later on because some summer weather remains through early September. The spring semester is more susceptible to inconsistent weather patterns, which makes it more difficult to have consistent viewings.
An upcoming meeting on Sept. 20 is still planned to be held at the observatory, weather permitting. It will involve going out to the telescope, looking over possible T-shirt designs, discussing potential club field trips and familiarizing new members with the telescope.
For the first year in club history, field trips are planned as a potential club activity for the semester. Cost said one potential trip would be to visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
Madeline Burbank is a contributing writer for The Alabamian. She's majoring in Computer Science with an undeclared minor. She enjoys video games and chatting with her girlfriend in her free time.