Robinson Observatory UCF's best kept secret
A simple tilt of the head and you are looking up at the sky. But have you ever considered observing what lies beyond?
The UCF Robinson Observatory is located on campus to give students the opportunity to explore the world and the stars from which we evolved.
Stairs along the interior of the observatory lead up a telescope where all of the magic happens.
The observatory was built in the mid-90s through the donations of Herbert and Susan Robinson, and the original telescope was transferred over from the University of South Florida.
At the time, USF had decided to get rid of its astronomy program, and UCF was looking to add one to its curriculum. The local astronomy club, the Central Florida Astronomical Society, was able to obtain the telescope and transport it over to UCF.
After about 10 years, the telescope's motors started to give out, so the College of Sciences was convinced to provide CFAS with a $150,000 grant to replace the telescope — which is the telescope that currently sits in the observatory.
Yan Fernandez, the director of the observatory, said that although the telescope is smaller in terms of how big the primary mirror is, it is much easier to control, with a detector that is much more sensitive than anything they've ever had before.
As an associate professor in the department of physics, Fernandez is also the faculty adviser for CFAS, where he is in charge of outreach events and coordinating the astronomy club.
"During the academic year, we try to have at least one public event per week, which is free and open to the public," he said.
Knights Under the Stars, the official name for the open houses, allows attendees to look through telescopes on the lawn, and even tour inside the observatory to learn about how and why the telescope works. Different formations in space can be observed at the various events.
The main goal for Fernandez is to make students aware of the observatory's existence on campus.
Down Ara Drive, past the Nike apartments and the UCF Police Department, the observatory is on the left, where students are welcome to take advantage of its resources.
"The biggest thing is that I want people to know they have this to connect with the universe," said Jenna Jones, a graduate teaching associate at the observatory. "Getting people aware is the main thing. That within itself will help make sure that this observatory continues to thrive."
Originally an art major at the University of Arkansas, Jones took an astronomy class as an elective and fell in love. Since then, she has had a fascination with asteroids.
"It's hard to get hands-on experience when you're studying asteroids, so the closest thing you can really get is working at an observatory," Jones said. "What I'm working on is characterizing these asteroids in fairly high detail, using ground-based observations."
While Jones studies asteroids, the observatory's other graduate teaching associate Charles Schambeau likes to use the Robinson Observatory to study comets.
"I like the origin … just knowing where we came from. That's one of the big reasons that I study comets and early material of our solar system," he said. "It's very much curiosity of where we came from."
Going into the observatory to just observe what's outside of our known world is what Schambeau said is the most fun, because being on earth physically removes you from the actual objects you're studying.
The observatory's biggest claim to fame thus far came when graduate student Nate Lust utilized new mathematical and statistical techniques to study binary asteroids, two asteroids that orbit each other, in November 2014.
The Robinson Observatory received a $30,000 grant a few weeks ago from the Technology Fee Office to upgrade some of its equipment.
"It was really gratifying to see that the committee felt like this was a good way to use the tech fee money that all students pay into," Fernandez said.
Aside from its recent grant, the Robinson Observatory exists solely on donations. Students are encouraged to visit the observatory to attend events and learn about the past that makes up our lives today.
Rachel Stuart is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @RachSageor email her at RachelS@CentralFloridaFuture.com.