STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Over 70 Colorado Mountain College students, faculty, staff and friends officially welcomed the addition of the campus’s new Ball Observatory at a dedication ceremony on Sept. 10.
Located on the west side of the CMC Steamboat Springs campus, behind the Academic and Student Center, the new observatory is a gift from Steamboat Springs residents Dr. Bob and Ann Ball.
“This is not about us,” said Ann Ball. “It’s about the observatory, CMC and the community.”
It had always been the Balls’ intention to donate their equipment to Colorado Mountain College when the opportunity presented itself. When they decided to downsize, Bob had several conversations with Paul McCudden, physical sciences faculty at CMC, which resulted in the Balls’ decision to enthusiastically approach the college for approval to transfer the equipment. Additional financial contributions were offered to pay for the final installation.
A permanent telescope
Bob is originally from eastern Nevada and said when he was growing up he could be in pitch darkness just five miles from his house. It was a perfect setting for looking at the stars. He majored in physics and mathematics in college, later studied medicine, and continued his passion for stargazing when he and Ann moved to Steamboat about 20 years ago.
He said he was impressed how quickly the CMC trustees moved to approve the addition of the observatory, and how helpful CMC faculty and staff were to make what McCudden said is a dream come true to teach at a campus that has its own observatory.
Students Jerome Brazeal, Lucas Gumbiner and Carson Compos, members of the college’s astronomy club, the Sky Club, said they were excited to see the observatory in its new college setting. They said they are glad the telescope is permanently on campus, and that they would no longer have to cart smaller telescopes around the Steamboat area to study the night sky.
An observatory for all
The dome now sits on a base of rings and houses the Balls’ donated 11-inch Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain telescope and a robotic telescopic mount. By using specialized astronomy software called The Sky, from Software Bisque, viewers can precisely focus on objects in the sky with pinpoint accuracy. The dome moves 360 degrees and its overhead opening electrically opens and closes.
McCudden said the observatory is for not only CMC students, faculty and staff – it’s very much open to the public. Following the work of retired physics and astronomy professor Jimmy Westlake, McCudden plans to resurrect the community-wide astronomy club known as the Yampa Valley Astronomy Club, hold monthly stargazing parties, and fully utilize the campus’s new tool both inside and outside the classroom – and not just during astronomy class.
“Astronomers should study poetry, and poets should study astronomy,” said McCudden.
On Nov. 11 from sunrise to 11 a.m., the Ball Observatory will host a viewing of the transit of Mercury across the sun, which is the first time this has occurred since 2016. McCudden said they’ll use solar filters on the telescope. “Don’t try this at home,” he said. All CMC students, employees and the public are encouraged to stop by.
In addition to the Balls’ gift, contributors to the new Ball Observatory include Central Electric and Native Excavating. CMC students also assisted with construction.