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Oakley Observatory Opening Skies to Once-In-A-Lifetime Event

June 4, 2012

Transit Looking
Transit Long Lines
Long lines at Oakley
Observatory to see Venus
Traverse the sun. 

A small viewfinder in one of its eight telescopes allowed Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Oakley Observatory to open a galaxy of opportunities for hundreds of Wabash Valley residents wanting to get a glimpse of an once-in-a-lifetime celestial event, the Venus Transit, on June 5.

"This is really neat" . . .  "Wow, that's amazing" . . . "This is better than I could imagine" were among the opinions of the more than 530 people  - young and old - that took advantage of the observatory's viewing party, which lasted well beyond the original one-hour time period.

"I was delighted with the public's response in wanting to see the Venus Transit. This shows that there is great public interest in astronomy," stated Richard Ditteon, professor of physics and optical engineering and director of the Oakley Observatory.  "This is why the observatory is here - to open the skies to others."

Transit Kirkpatrick

Really, there were two windows to the Venus Transit. Technology allowed people to also view the astronomical phenomenon from a telescope at the Oakley Southern Sky Observatory, a facility Rose-Hulman maintains near New South Wales, Australia. Observatory Caretaker John Shobbrook talked with people through a Skype feed.

Venus' orbit won't come between the Sun and Earth again until the year 2117. Through the observatory's telescopes Venus was easily identifiable as a small black circle moving across the face of the Sun.

"The Sun was this big orange blob" and Venus appeared as a "perfectly round spot" passing in front of it . . . It was really fascinating to see it," Sister Joan Slobig of St. Mary-of-the-Woods told The Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

southern sky montage
Southern Skies Observatory, Australia

"This is something in earth science we just had to see," added Barbara Mays.

Several faculty, staff members and students assisted the observatory and Department of Physics and Optical Engineering in hosting the viewing event.  Faculty volunteers were Elaine Kirkpatrick, Wayne Padgett and Yosi Shibberu. Staff members lending a helping hand were Jeff Lanter, Bernadette Ewen, Brenda Mardis and Ali O'Leary. Student assistants were Mike Junge, Luke Mader, Robert Gilbert, Ben Coble, Emily Eckstein and Andrew Harris. Holly Hudson, a science teacher and planetarium director at Terre Haute South High School, set up an educational display near the observatory to help youths understand the significance of what they were seeing through the telescopes.

"This was a great night for astronomy," Ditteon stated.

Both of Rose-Hulman's observatories were provided through grants by the Oakley Foundation of Terre Haute.  Learn more about the Oakley Observatory.