Benedictine's Daglen Observatory Hosts Historic Comet Viewing

The Green Comet Passed Earth on its 50,000 Year Journey

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Green Comet (Photo by AP)

The world was abuzz about the return of Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) to the solar system, and the Atchison community was no different. Hundreds of people turned out for each of two planned viewings of the "Green Comet," a visitor from deep space that only passes Earth once every 50,000 years! The rare appearance put its viewing on the bucket list for many Benedictine College students, faculty, staff and area residents. The comet was not as bright as predicted, so the use of a telescope was necessary to see the dramatic, once-in-a-lifetime sight.

To help with the viewing, the Benedictine College Department of Physics & Astronomy hosted two open houses at the school’s Daglen Observatory. At the first open house on January 30, 2023, low clouds obscurred the comet, but visitors enjoyed looking at Jupiter and the Moon. A crystal clear night welcomed the long line of visitors for the second open house on February 2, 2023, and the result was not disappointing. Telescopes were trained on the comet for personal viewing and the observatory even tried to get a picture of the comet.

“We were amazed by the enthusiasm in the long line of people who waited in the cold for a glimpse of the comet," said Dr. Ryan Maderak, chair of the Department of Physics & Astronomy.  "The comet competed with a nearly full moon, but that did not dampen the sense of wonder. The moment when someone looks through a telescope for the first time and says 'wow' is part of the reason I love being an astronomer. We look forward to welcoming many more people to Daglen Observatory for upcoming open houses and special events. And our Physics & Astronomy majors are already excited to be part of it.”

Built in 2017, the Daglen Observatory is part of the Vatican Observatory Consortium and was funded by a gift from Joe ’69 and Frankee Wright ’69 Daglen. It has four large 14-inch telescopes, plus a control room where images from the telescopes can be viewed on monitors. Dr. Maderak and Dr. Christopher Shingledecker, assistant professor in the department, ran the open house with assistance from students who are astronomy majors or part of the Physics Club.

Shingledecker is a noted specialist on comets who was part of an international team of astronomers among the first to use NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope. He has written an article on the chemical makeup of comets and was recently quoted in Our Sunday Visitor in reference to C/2022 E3 (ZTF), or the “green comet.”

The next scheduled open houses are set for March 15, 2023, from 8:30 – 10:30 p.m. and April 12, 2023, from 9 – 11 p.m. The faculty and students in the Department of Physics & Astronomy are also excited for two solar eclipses coming in the fall, one on Oct. 14, 2023, which will have a partial solar eclipse of 61% and then another on April 8, 2024, which will have a solar eclipse of 87% in Atchison.

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 honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and 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. Benedictine College has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.