University of Lynchburg will have a groundbreaking ceremony for an astronomical observatory at Claytor Nature Study Center at 5 p.m. April 26 in conjunction with a Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, Business After Hours reception.
The $450,000 project represents the next phase of the College’s plan to transform the Claytor Center into a comprehensive environmental education facility. The 960-square-foot complex will feature a dome observatory housing a 20-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope, an optical design also used in the Hubble Space Telescope. It will also have a roll-off roof observatory equipped with six 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, and an observation deck for using astronomical binoculars and solar telescopes. An observatory control room will be equipped with instrumentation that will allow LC to pursue astronomical research in conjunction with other regional colleges and universities.
The location of the 470-acre Claytor Nature Study Center — five miles from Bedford and 25 miles from Lynchburg — offers a perfect setting for astronomical observation unhindered by light pollution. Few colleges and universities enjoy access to such sites. When completed, the facility will be one of the most publicly accessible dark-sky observatories in Virginia.
Following the completion of construction in August, the College plans to begin teaching classes at the facility during the 2007 fall semester. Community outreach programs will be available to K-12 students and teachers, other college students, faculty, and staff, and interested groups.
To date, the College has received a number of significant gifts for the project, including:
· $50,000 from Sandy and Marvin Fong ’70 for the dome observatory;
· $50,000 challenge grant from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation;
· $15,000 grant from the George J. and Effie L. Seay Foundation;
· $10,000 grant from the Richard and Caroline T. Gwathmey Memorial Trust;
· $10,000 grant from the C.E. Richardson Benevolent Foundation;
· $5,000 grant from American Electric Power.
The College has also received gifts from faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the College, including a $25,000 challenge grant from an anonymous alumnus, a $25,000 planned gift to create an endowment for the observatory that will help fund equipment and facilities upgrades, and a substantial gift from Dr. Neal Sumerlin, a professor of chemistry and astronomy who proposed the observatory. Dr. Sumerlin made his gift in honor of his great-grandmother, Margaret G.L. Gilbert, who first sparked his interest in the field by letting him stay up to watch the Perseid meteor shower when he was four years old.
“This is literally a dream come true,” Sumerlin said. “When I first began planning for this, I envisioned a few small telescopes in a shed with a roll-off roof. What we are building here is one of the finest small-college observatories in the state, if not the nation. I have been amazed and thrilled at the support this project has gained, both from outside the University of Lynchburg community and from within it. You can never know where one night with a four-year-old boy might lead.”
For more information contact Shannon Brennan at 434.544.8609.