Guilford’s Cline Observatory open house reaches New Horizons


Molly Schneider/Guilfordian

Have you ever seen a cluster of stars being born, seen Jupiter through a telescope or even been up to Guilford’s Cline Observatory? You may soon have an opportunity to.

Every month the Guilford College physics department hosts an open house at the Cline Observatory. On Feb. 6, it hosted another one. The show began at 7:00 p.m. with a presentation on Pluto and NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in the Joseph Bryan Jr. Auditorium.

The topic of these presentations changes each time, but Pluto was chosen because the New Horizons spacecraft will encounter Pluto in July after being launched nine years ago and traveling over three billion miles. The presentation gave basic information and a background on Pluto.

“I was never really told why Pluto became a dwarf planet, and I thought it was great that they explained what defined a planet,” said Tina Barber, a Gibsonville resident.

After the presentation, attendees went up to the observatory for a viewing through telescopes while videos about Pluto were projected in the Joseph Bryan Jr. Auditorium.

“You’ve seen pictures of Saturn and Jupiter, but to look through the telescope yourself is somehow different,” said Associate Professor of Physics Don Smith.

This experience changed many people’s perspectives.

“(Looking through the telescopes) makes you feel very small,” said senior Alex Garrison.

The open houses are free and welcome to the public.

“The best thing about the open houses is seeing people who have not been exposed to some of the astronomy and all the oohs and ahhs that come along with that,” said CCE junior Joseph Holmes, who helps run the event. “Especially with children. Children are particularly enthused by it.”

Once a year, Guilford coordinates with local schools and invites students to enjoy the event. During this event, Guilford invited students from Jefferson Elementary School to learn about Pluto.

“I like the kids being here,” said Keith Holliday ‘76, former Greensboro mayor and member of Guilford College’s Board of Visitors. “It’s very healthy for Guilford College to be a part of the community and to have these young people getting excited about real science instead of seeing it on a computer screen.”

Many adults and students also came to this event.

“I was surprised that the turnout was so great,” said Greensboro resident Alex Schwitter. “I was so happy that people took an interest in science.”

Guilford’s open houses have advanced from when it began as a telescope in an open field.

“Over time the program has gotten more sophisticated,” said Glaxo Wellcome Professor of Physics Thom Espinola. “We’re able to show people more and handle more people. There’s no longer a line trickling out to a telescope.”

The next Cline Observatory Open Houses are on March 28 and April 11. The topic for March is still undecided, but in April the topic will be the sun, and the observatory will host a sunsport viewing.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Smith. “Both the planetarium and the observatory are fairly rare for a college our size, and I hope more students will come and take advantage of it because, especially in urban environments these days, you just don’t get to see the sky very often.”