Visiting Fountainwood Observatory
Need a great fall date spot? Looking for a fun and educational family outing? Visit Fountainwood Observatory at Southwestern University. Mark Bottorff, associate professor of physics, tells the View about Fountainwood Viewing Nights.
When did free public viewing days start?
Max Allen, a local engineer, builder, and amateur astronomer, donated a telescope to the Physics Department in the early 1990s. The bequest required that Southwestern offer monthly public viewings during the academic year. Records of visitors begin in 1997, and more than 12,400 people have visited since then.
What can visitors expect to see and do?
On a clear night, visitors can look through about a half-dozen telescopes, including the Max Allen and a research telescope that is housed under a roll-off rooftop. They can see the moon, a few planets, and some brighter star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Most visitors stay 30 to 45 minutes, unless we partner the viewing with another event, such as outdoor yoga.
Who runs the events?
Each telescope has an operator who explains to viewers what they are viewing and how the telescope works. The operators include Southwestern University faculty and students and talented observers from the Williamson County Astronomy Club.
Follow these tips for a successful outing:
- Children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
- Remember that there are no public restrooms nearby.
- The observatory is very dark so that viewers’ eyes can adjust to see dim objects.
- If you bring a flashlight, put a red filter over it.
- Lower the illumination setting on your smartphone.
- Refrain from flash photography!
- Smoking is not allowed onsite. Smoke can coat the surfaces of delicate telescope optics, which are very difficult to clean properly.
- Early weather cancellation messages are posted at the observatory hotline: 512-863-1242.
SU’s Fall 2017 Public Night Schedule is one Saturday a month: Sept. 16, Oct. 28, Nov. 4, Dec. 9 from 8:00 to 10:30 P.M.
The observatory is north of the Rockwell Baseball Field and west of the Taylor-Sanders Softball Field. Park on Southwestern Boulevard, and take the concrete sidewalk to the observatory. Note: The parking lot near the observatory is closed during public nights for safety.
See #6 on the campus map.