Physics & Asronomy Dept. Sets Comet Viewing for April 3

  • Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Benedictine College students and Atchison-area residents will have the opportunity to view both a comet and the Andromeda Galaxy in the night sky of Wednesday, April 3.  At 8:30 p.m. that evening, the college’s Department of Physics and Astronomy has scheduled an evening observing session using two newly acquired telescopes.  The viewing will take place on the southwest side of Westerman Hall with parking available near the baseball field off of Mound Street.  The event is co-sponsored by the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Benedictine College chapter of the Society of Physics Students, and the Lemaitre Astronomical Society.


“The comet C/2011 L4, called Comet PANSTARRS after the Pan-STARRS telescope on Haleakala in Hawaii that first observed it, is expected to reach a peak integrated magnitude of 5 during the first week of April, at the same time it passes within a few degrees of the Andromeda Galaxy in the night sky,” said Dr. Scott Baird, professor of physics and astronomy. 


According to Dr. Baird, the viewing will utilize a new, fully automated 8-inch Celestron CPC Series telescope as well as a new 14-inch Odyssey telescope. Both were donated to the college over this past summer.


“The automated properties of the new Celestron-8 telescope will allow it to very precisely follow the comet across the sky and, because of the tracking, can use higher magnification to look at the comet’s head as well as the center of the Andromeda Galaxy,” said Dr. Baird.  “Used with smaller magnification than the Celestron-8, the large light-gathering power of the 14-inch mirror will allow the diffuse light of the comet’s tail to be more visible.  The Moon will be close to 3rd Quarter phase and will be below the horizon in the evening, allowing the night sky to be quite dark, which will help viewing of the fainter structures.”


The 8-inch telescope was donated along with a Starizona Camera and 40 astronomy reference books by Dr. Donald Doemling, a 1952 graduate of the biology program at St. Benedict’s College, now Benedictine College.  Dr. Doemling was a college professor for his career, but became an astronomy enthusiast and still volunteers as a tour guide at the Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona.  He decided to give the automatic telescope and other materials to the school at the annual summer alumni reunion, for which he had returned to Atchison.  The 14-inch Odyssey telescope was given by Atchison resident Kenny Trompeter in memory of his brother, Gary Trompeter, an avid amateur astronomer.


The observing session will start, if the sky is clear, at 8:30 p.m. when the sky is getting truly dark after the Sun has set.  The comet and galaxy are in the northwest sky and will need to be observed during the first hour or 90 minutes after 8:30, before they get too close to the horizon.


The observing session will be cancelled if the sky is cloudy that night.  If participants are uncertain whether the sky will allow observation, they can contact Dr. Baird at or by telephone at 913-360-7527.


Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas.  The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide.  It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.  It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.