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CSU hosts public observing at Madison-Macdonald Observatory

A+crescent+moon+stands+out+against+a+black+sky.
Collegian | Samantha Nordstrom
A crescent moon illuminates the sky Oct. 20. This photo was taken using the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Dobsonian telescope in the Madison-Macdonald Observatory. There are multiple of these telescopes in the observatory that are used for labs.

On the first and third Friday of each month from April to November, the physics department at Colorado State University opens the Madison-Macdonald Observatory to the public and hosts a night of public observing. 

Professor Emily Hardegree-Ullman runs the events with one of the student telescope operators within the department. 

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“I’ve always been into space and planets, but I actually didn’t get an opportunity to look through many telescopes until I was in college,” Hardegree-Ullman said. “So now that I use them a lot, I really like showing other people how to use them.”

Planet Saturn stands out against a black sky.
The planet Saturn illuminates the sky Oct. 20. This photo was taken using the 14-inch Celestron telescope with a Software Bisque mount telescope in the Madison-Macdonald Observatory. (The Collegian | Samantha Nordstrom)

The Madison-Macdonald Observatory was originally built in 1965 and was the work of M. Leslie “Les” Madison, the chairman of the mathematics department and the astronomy professor on campus. 

When the observatory was first built, the location was an excellent site for observing due to the dark skies overhead, and it was used in astronomical research through the 1960s. 

Today, the light pollution from the growing city and campus prevents any research from being done at the observatory, but the telescopes continue to be used for the scientific purpose of educating students at CSU and giving the general public a chance to see into the sky above.

“We can see a lot of the fairly bright things, even if they’re too faint for your eye,” Hardegree-Ullman said. “With the big telescope, you can see the Ring Nebula pretty well; you can see globular clusters where you can see the individual stars; you can see Andromeda Galaxy. So there’s a lot of cool things you can see.”

Hardegree-Ullman is currently the only professor of astronomy at CSU. She runs the observatory alongside two student telescope operators.

“It’s the best part of my job,” Hardegree-Ullman said. “People will look at something like Saturn and say, ‘That can’t be real — that has to be fake.’ So it’s just pretty neat to be able to show people that these things we talk about are actually out there.”

The planets that can be seen from the observatory vary throughout the year. Currently, Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune can be seen through the telescopes alongside the moon and countless stars out in the universe.

People observe and discuss the stars around a large viewing telescope. The room glows dimly red.
Second-year physics student Stefania Miranda and Colorado State University astronomy professor Emily Hardegree-Ullman re-adjust the 14-inch Celestron telescope with a Software Bisque mount to view a star cluster in the Madison-Macdonald Observatory while Fort Collins resident Alex Guentchev watches Oct. 20. “I found it fascinating how people knew about (astronomy), and I wanted to be someone who knows about it too,” Miranda said. (The Collegian | Samantha Nordstrom)

“I really like how every time I’ve worked, no matter what people’s majors are, what people’s backgrounds are, they come here, and they always have the same reaction on their face,” said Stefania Miranda, a second-year physics major and one of the telescope operators at the observatory. “Every time they look into the lens, they’re always like, ‘This is so cool,’ or, ‘No way,’ or ‘That looks fake,’ and I say the same things, and it just never gets old.”

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The observatory will host two more public observing nights Nov. 3 and 17 before closing down for the winter. The events will start up again on the first Friday of April as long as the skies are clear. 

“There’s very few places where you can use a telescope this big for free, so if you’re in Fort Collins, you should definitely come,” Hardegree-Ullman said.

Reach Hannah Parcells at science@collegian.com or on Twitter @HannahParcells.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Parcells, News Editor
Hannah Parcells is currently the news editor at The Collegian, a role that she loves dearly. Parcells uses she/her pronouns and began writing for The Collegian in fall 2023 as a reporter under the news, science, opinion and life and culture desks.  Parcells is currently pursuing two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a concentration in global politics. Parcells has always been passionate about understanding and helping other people and hopes to use her education to try and leave the world a little better than she found it.  Raised in Castle Rock, Colorado, Parcells grew up with a love of learning, music and writing. She’s always working to learn more about the world through history and art and loves being introduced to new places, people and ideas.  On the off chance that she’s not buried in textbooks, research papers and policy analyses, Hannah can be found on a hike, watching movies or at any local bookstore or coffee shop, feeding her ongoing addictions to both caffeine and good books. Parcells is incredibly proud of the work she’s done at The Collegian so far and is excited to continue that work as an editor of the news desk.

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