Paul Morgan, adjunct astronomy instructor, has dreamed about having a state of the art  observatory at UCC for many years. With help from the community that dream is slowly becoming a reality. Four telescopes are expected to be operational near the Tower Building this June.

When Morgan was trying to raise money for the project, ASUCC was among the first to provide funding. ASUCC provided $20,000, validating the seriousness of the project. Morgan was then able to raise $35,000 more in grants. Numerous financial and in kind donations given by community members, businesses and organizations brought the full value of the project to over an estimated $100,000.

“The community has been wonderful supporting this. That’s the only reason we could do it. Because unfortunately astronomy stuff is very expensive,” Morgan said.

Because ASUCC is the principal donor, they were given the right to name the building. In response to Morgan’s work for UCC, the astronomy program and his efforts to make the observatory a reality, ASUCC honored Morgan by naming the observatory The Dr. Paul Morgan Observatory.

“I was very surprised to hear they named it after me,” Morgan said. “I’m honored; it’s a great privilege to have it.”

Use of the observatory will not be limited to UCC students. Morgan plans scholastic and community outreach.

Through scholastic outreach, Morgan wants to get all schools in Douglas County engaged in astronomy with lesson plans and modules utilizing the observatory (Lincoln Middle School and Oakland High School will be the first).

Community outreach will consist of “Nights at the Observatory” with a public viewing area and community broadcasts where images will be live-streamed to a website. The website will make the observatory essentially accessible to anyone in the world, categorizing the observatory as a virtual telescope. The observatory will be the first virtual telescope in the United States.

“There are certain limitations when you have to drag the telescopes out and set them up. The observatory will have all computerized telescopes. Everything will be digital with cameras so our capabilities will be exponentially better than where we were. So my hope was build the observatory then we can really do fun astronomy here. We were limited before and now as they say, sky’s the limit,” Morgan said.

According to Morgan, the location near the Tower Building, behind the Tech Center, is imperfect because it is not a dark site (as he explained it, if you go outside at night and you can’t see your feet, you’re in a dark site). The site is not preferable for deep imaging, but it has certain advantages that make the location viable for the observatory. Among these advantages are the security that the college provides, the easy Internet access and easy student access.

Once the building is completed, the four telescopes and their computers, cameras and televisions will be installed. Aligning the mounts for the two main telescopes will take three to five nights. The mounts cost around $10,000 and were purchased from Astro-Physics, a company in Illinois that develops telescopes and accessories.

“The heart of the system is the mount because it moves the telescope around, and if it doesn’t do it right, who cares about the rest,” Morgan said.

If the telescopes and mounts are well maintained, they will last 50 to 60 years; the electronics for the mount will change over time, however, but are easy to upgrade.

Revised April 21, 2016 -grammatical correction

The Paul Morgan Observatory will feature a roll-off rooftop. It will be the very first U.S. virtual telescope.
Photo provided by Brandon Taylor/ Mainstream