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History of the Reynolds Observatory

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Chemical Engineering Professor Francis “Daddy” Reynolds, a Clarkson Alumus, donated his homemade telescope. His apparatus was powerful enough to observe 14th magnitude stars.  It had a theoretical angular resolution of one arc second.  It was equipped with a clock drive and a polar mount.   The mirror was ground by Reynolds himself. In the 1970’s the college built a small observatory near the ski slope on the hill campus.  In 1975 it was named after Professor Reynolds.  During the course of his hobby, Reynolds ground several mirrors and eyepieces.  He gave lectures on astronomy throughout New York State.  He used the telescope primarily for variable star work, and acquired data for the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). His telescope was refurbished in the early 2000’s and is now housed by the Adirondack Public Observatory in Tupper Lake.

The Department of Physics used the observatory actively through 1990, bringing students for observations of celestial objects discussed in introductory physics courses and the occasional course in astronomy. A student club built several more telescopes and logged in many hours of observations until sometime in the early 1990’s the observatory was slowly abandoned to the mice and birds who moved in.  

A revival began in 2000, when an undergraduate honor’s student Blaise Pascal Tine, originally from Cameroon in West Africa built a go-to navigational system for his senior thesis, permitting the 11 inch Celestron still mounted in the dome to home in on faint objects by computer controls. An amateur astronomer Jan Wojcik, a professor in the Humanities department, who worked on the thesis, petitioned then Provost Tony Collins for funds to purchase a new more sophisticated 12” Meade go-to telescope and a high grade astronomical CCD camera. A new astronomy club was started, and over the next decade, the students built a heated research shed adjacent to the dome, began making systematic observations for the AAVSO, built two radio-telescope antennae out of salvaged large television dishes, and began providing the public with a regular schedule of free weekly observing sessions. Over two hundred people came for special evenings of observing eclipses of the moon, transits of Venus, and the Opposition of Mars when it came closest to the earth in its orbit in thousands of years. Over 10,000 guests have logged observations since the revival.  Clarkson students began bringing astronomy programs into local high schools, and once again the faculty director began giving astronomy lectures throughout New York State. One student club member graduated into a job with NASA working on the Curiosity Mars Probe. Another manages a major research telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.