Etienne Rollin is making it possible for people to see Jupiter, the moons of Saturn – even the Andromeda galaxy.
Rollin, who is lab supervisor in Carleton’s physics department, will host night sky observation sessions this year on campus. The astronomy nights will bring the universe to campus using telescopes located in the Kessler Observatory on top of Carleton’s Herzberg building.
“Saturn is my favourite object,” says Rollin. “(During these sessions) you will see its rings, and moons around Saturn, same with the planet Jupiter. On our own moon we can see craters and features of the moon itself.”
He has looked after the Carleton observatory for 10 years and it has always been his goal to make it more open to the public. But because of its size, he was limited to private sessions that could hold about 15 people.
Now, the telescope will be hooked up to a computer in a classroom on campus so more people can take part.
“We’ll be able to fit more people because we can use a classroom,” Rollin says, adding that each session will accommodate to about 60 people. “But there’s no reason we couldn’t go to a bigger classroom.”
It’s impossible to know exactly how far the telescope can see because it depends on how bright the object is. There are some objects that are very close to Earth but are dimmer, Rollin says, while there are other objects far away that are quite bright and easy to spot.
“We can see galaxies that are calculated in light years. The closest galaxy outside of our own Milky Way is Andromeda, which is two million light years away. But you can observe this galaxy with a simple pair of binoculars.”
Rollin says participants will be surprised by the fact there is always something new when it comes to astronomy, and how visible planets can be just based on what season it is.
“There’s no limit in the amount of things you can see.”
As the sessions begin, Rollin wants astronomy nights to be open to everyone – including those who just want to learn basic skills on how to use a telescope, as well as those who are more knowledgeable about astronomy.
He’s also thought of creating polls before each session, asking participants what they are interested in learning about when they come.
In addition to learning about the solar system, Rollin says the sessions will put things into perspective for the participants.
“The main feeling that people get after an astronomy session is they realize the universe is huge,” he says. “You realize how tiny, tiny you are.”
For more information about astronomy nights, visit the website: http://physics.carleton.ca/observatory.