Penn State Intercom......April 12 , 2001

New observatory brings
Erie sky into sharper focus

Students, faculty and visitors to the Open House Nights in Astronomy at Penn State Erie will be observing the skies more clearly thanks to an advanced telescope and observatory to be dedicated later this month.

The new equipment is a gift of Robert and Elizabeth Mehalso of Fairport, N.Y., and their family. Robert Mehalso is a 1964 graduate of the University who attended Penn State Erie in 1961 and 1962.

The new Meade Instruments Corp. refracting telescope is four feet long and has a lens that is seven inches in diameter. It is completely computer-controlled with software that permits automated access to thousands of objects in the sky. The telescopic images can be transmitted to a larger viewing screen placed just outside the observatory or in the Otto Behrend Science Building lecture hall.

The Mehalsos' gift includes a charged coupled device (CCD) that is used to record and save pictures from the telescope. The CCD is similar to a digital camera but offers astronomers a broader range of photographic options.

The new telescope is housed in an Ash dome, an observatory building made by the Ash Manufacturing Co. Fourteen feet in diameter at its base, the dome is more than 14 feet high. Both telescope and dome rotate, and a panel in the dome slides back for telescopic viewing. The observatory site is fully handicapped accessible with paved walkways and wider doors.

Penn State Erie's older, smaller observatory is still in use. It houses a 12-inch reflecting telescope. Physics and astronomy students will use this telescope for undergraduate research projects.

The next Astronomy Open House Night is scheduled for April 19 and a follow-up program will be held on Astronomy Day, April 28.