Guilford’s stellar observatory opens new world to students


“It’s something that everyone knows is there and sees, but it’s kind of like a doorway into Narnia,” said junior Ruth deButts. “You don’t really know what it’s about until you get there.”
With its dreamy air and elusive secrets, Guilford’s own Cline Observatory has generated fantasy in the minds of Guilford’s students since its creation. This semester, a group of students are well on their way to unlocking the many mysteries of Guilford’s Cline Observatory in Associate Professor of Physics Don Smith’s Observatory Practice class.
“It makes me want to be an astrophysicist if I had another chance at life,” said deButts on her experience in the class.
The course began with an introductory phase on the basics of astronomy and how physics works. The students learned about the coordinate system for the stars and are currently learning how to take photos of space.
“I remember the first time I saw Jupiter (through a telescope),” said sophomore James Missell. “I almost jumped up and down and started yelling because it was so amazing. It was so crisp and beautiful looking.”
The class has no prerequisites, and anyone can participate.
“There’s an interesting variety of people in the class,” said sophomore Robert Van Pelt. “You have physics majors, political science majors, music majors, psychology majors. I truly applaud Don for organizing a truly interesting physics class that can accommodate so many types of students.”
“People are coming into this class with radically different backgrounds,” said Don Smith. “It’s not your typical, boring, teacher-stand-at-the-front-of-the-class, lecture-style class. You cannot give a lecture that both a fourth year physics major and a first year economics major would find interesting.”
In addition to a hands-on curriculum and unique lessons open to a diverse array of students, the class offers another perk.
How many of you have pressed the little ‘R’ in Frank’s elevator to no effect? Well, Observatory Practice students can go up to the roof, that forbidden area, any time they want. They also keep that access until they graduate. This permits the now well-trained students to further explore the universe’s mysteries through their own research even outside of class.
“When you are looking up at the sky on a regular basis, staring into space, you just get a new perspective on where we are, our place in the universe,” said sophomore Justin Ouellette. “Having an observatory definitely adds a new perspective about the world.”
“It provides an important tool to support student research and a venue through which non-scientists (students and public) can experience the wonder of the universe first-hand,” said Tom English, director of Guilford Technical Community College’s Cline Observatory in an email interview.
GTCC holds regular viewing sessions every Friday night and Guilford holds special viewing sessions with accompanying presentations. This combination offers an expansive observatory experience for the community.
Guilford’s next presentation will take place in April, when Glaxo Wellcome Professor of Physics Thom Espinola will give a presentation on comets. The event is open to the public, free and family-friendly. Stop by and unlock the mysteries of Guilford’s Observatory yourself.
“You definitely won’t regret it,” said deButts.