Crane Observatory offers starlit skies, cosmic wonder

To The Stars With No Difficulty: WU’s Crane Observatory offers an up close and personal view of outer space during its bi-monthly open house events. The observatory is home to one of the nation’s 23 Warner & Swasey refracting telescopes that are open to the public.

Stephanie Cannon, [email protected] washburn.edu, is a sophomore mass media major.

 The Crane Observatory hosts many open house events throughout the school year.

Every other Thursday evening throughout the fall semester, the observatory opens its doors for the public to come in and view the stars through Washburn’s Warner & Swasey refracting telescope. There is also a deck on top of the building surrounding the telescope, where astronomy buffs can gaze at the stars through their own telescopes.

Even though it hasn’t always been housed in its current location in Stoffer Science Hall, the telescope, which was built in the 1890s, has been on campus since 1901. According to the observatory’s website, building is named for Zenus Crane. In October of 1901, Crane gave an anonymous donated of $50,000 for the building’s construction. It wasn’t until after Crane’s death in 1917 that he was revealed as the benefactor.

At one time, the Crane Observatory stood on the grounds now occupied by Yager Stadium. The observatory, along with several other buildings on campus, was destroyed in the tornado of 1966.

Mark Smith, the coordinator of astronomy outreach, says, “You can see various photos of the old Crane Observatory in various places on campus, said astronomy lecturer and coordinator of astronomy outreach Mark Smith. “If you come our current observatory you can view a piece of history.”

One key problem for the observatory, located at a university in the middle of a city, is light pollution. With student safety overriding any concerns regarding viewing outer space, the view can be limited. However, Smith contends that a number of celestial bodies, including the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, the Orion nebula and other cosmic wonders, can easily be seen from the observatory.

Typically there aren’t many special events hosted at the observatory, but if there is enough interest in a celestial event, such as the upcoming lunar eclipse, Smith will open the doors and give students an opportunity to experience the phenomenon from the Crane’s enhanced vantage point.

“If everything goes well they can view anywhere from a brassy copper color staining the moon’s surface all the way to a blood red,” said Smith.

Those interested in checking out the next lunar eclipse, coming on October 8, should contact Smith at [email protected] edu and let him know you’re interested in attending. The event will be scheduled from 4 – 6 a.m. on October 8 if student interest is high enough.