September 18, 2002


NOC astronomy instructor Fritz Osell explains to Enid Mayor Doug Frantz the function of the research telescope
Northern Oklahoma College astronomy instructor Fritz Osell (left) explains to Enid Mayor Doug Frantz the function of the research telescope that will be housed at the observatory on the Enid campus.


The sky is the limit when Fritz Osell teaches his astronomy classes at Northern Oklahoma College Enid this fall. The beginning of a proposed astronomy program will feature hands-on experience in a research observatory now under construction on campus.

Once the observatory is operational, probably in October, Enid students can work on common research projects with students in colleges that are members of the Selman Living Laboratory Consortium. With the University of Central Oklahoma, Osell put together the consortium, operated by UCO. Members include Northern, UCO, Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Western Kentucky University, Santa Clara (Calif.) University, the University of California at Berkeley and Leeward Community College in Hawaii. The consortium works to develop programs for education and research that can lead to grants for members.

Northern will work with students "on any project at any college. Small colleges with few resources can use the high tech quality equipment at Northern," Osell stated. He said astronomy professors at the University of Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State University are eager for the observatory to become operational, and the Oklahoma Astronomy Club is interested in using the faculties.

The observatory, a pre-fabricated structure 16 feet in diameter with a revolving dome, will be assembled in September. It will house a permanently mounted 14-inch research grade telescope, capable of remote operation through the Internet. Eight other telescopes will be set up outside the observatory building.

With the proper software, a student at a remote site could select an object currently in the night sky and click on the object on screen, remotely pointing the research telescope to the object. By switching to camera software, the student would command the digital camera on the back of the telescope to photograph the object and send back the color photograph.

"An unfilled niche exists in research because of the lack of telescope time," Osell said. "Professionals can't get time at the big observatories." Using the Northern telescope, students or interested members of the public can do certain real research projects, such as searching for and monitoring asteroids, a very time-consuming and labor-intensive process. "They might even discover an asteroid," he commented.

Osell plans to work with instructors from other institutions by providing educational materials and suggestions. He envisions an astronomy website where high school teachers can obtain instructions and images for projects. "A lot of educational material can be incorporated in to any high school science program," he explained.

He also plans to inaugurate public programs at the observatory, designating certain times for use by area school science classes and the general public. As part of their course requirements, Northern astronomy students will assist with these programs. They can also mentor high school or elementary students.

Northern offers two sections of Astronomy 1014, a general survey astronomy course fulfilling core science requirements with laboratory. "We learn science by doing real science. We can use the telescope to enjoy the huge variety of objects in night sky and capture the image of what lies above," Osell said.

Story contact:
Marjilea Smithheisler
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580-628-6444 FAX: 580-628-6673