Landmark. In 2020, the University listed the Observatory as one of several campus buildings in need of roof renovations, and water infiltration also has been an issue. It was members of the Friends of the Observatory who first flagged the Save America’s Treasures program as a potential way to fund much-needed work on the Observatory. Administered by the National Parks Service, the program provides grants to support preservation of significant properties and collections that are connected to the nation’s heritage. LAS administrators, the Department of Astronomy, and University Facilities & Services pulled together to make a case for the Observatory as a worthy project. In fall 2022 the university was awarded a $500,000 Save America’s Treasures grant, which will be matched by an additional $500,000 from the campus deferred maintenance fund, providing a total of $1 million for critical renovations to the Observatory. Derek Fultz, senior director of facilities and planning for the College of LAS, said the timeline and scope of the work are still being determined, but he hopes to New projects, planning, and deep appreciation keep the Observatory looking upward
On a typical day, thousands of students, faculty, and staff crisscross campus, hustling from one class, project, meeting, and building to another. During daylight hours, crowds flow in and out of major destinations like Lincoln Hall, the Union, and the Library. It’s only when the sun sets and the sky darkens that the Observatory becomes a hub of activity. While the building is no longer used for research, it still plays a vital role in learning and serves as a popular destination for lovers of astronomy. One crisp night early in October, dozens of undergraduate students streamed in to perform observations for their Introduction to Astronomy course using the Observatory’s original 12-inch Brashear refracting telescope, installed in 1896, while students in an advanced lab class used more modern instruments set up behind the building. A few days earlier, The Astronomical Society held an open house, attended by about 300 people who came to view Jupiter at opposition, the point at which the planet is directly opposite the Sun from the perspective of Earth. That night Jupiter and Earth were
closer than they had been in 59 years, and the skies were clear.
“We had a gorgeous view of the moon, Jupiter, and Saturn,” said Bryan Dunne, professor of astronomy and director of the Observatory. “The Observatory was hopping! If you happen by in the day, you might think it’s dead, but come by at night. You'll see how active the place can be.” Michael Svec (BS, ’88, physics), a professor of education at Furman University and active member of The Friends of the University of Illinois Observatory, credits the human scale of the Observatory and its telescope for that popularity. “The telescope was designed for the human hand and the human eye,” he said. “Most modern telescopes are designed for the digital eye. It’s well designed for learning, because the student actually interacts with the universe through their senses, not through the computer screen.” Preserving that experience for students and visitors means preserving the Observatory structure, no small challenge for the 127-year-old National Historic
20 / Spring 2023
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