The Observatory



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SBU Dept. of Physics Observatory Page

St. Bonaventure University's observatory stands near the Maintenance and Central Receiving Building, behind the Reilly Center. Its construction was completed in 1989, and it was opened for use in the spring semester of 1990 with the arrival of three high-powered telescopes. The current observatory is actually the second observatory to be built on campus. The first was a small wooden structure that was built in the 1930s, then torn down and forgotten sometime after 1953.

The original University observatory, which stood near where the Richter Center stands today.

Construction of the original observatory, 1938.

The original SBU observatory was constructed in 1938. An issue of the St. Bona Venture from September 23, 1938 notes that it stood near the ROTC gunsheds--approximately where the Richter Center stands today. The article continues to say that the observatory housed a 12-inch reflector-type telescope, and the building was painted silver to reflect heat and reduce computational errors due to heat differential. The article credits the Rev. Francis Sullivan, O.F.M., Ph.D., with spearheading the construction of the observatory, saying that he had been working on the lens and telescope for two years. Beyond this, very little is known about the original observatory. According to a March 3, 1989 article in the Bona Venture, the exact reason that the facility was torn down is unknown. However, it is believed that interest in the old observatory died out, and the wooden structure suffered from severe neglect and decay. Photographic evidence that depicts the observatory sitting next to the construction site of Robinson and Falconio Halls in 1953 suggests that the building was torn down some time after that date.

In 1987, planning began for today's observatory which was designed by Clint Riehle, the Director of Maintenance at the time, and Dr. John Neeson, professor of physics. The construction of the observatory was funded through the Capital Campaign's undesignated funds and was built by Vossler Construction of Allegany.  According to Dr. David DiMattio, Dean of Clare College and professor of physics, the building consists of a classroom, a storage closet, an upper dome, and an outdoor deck. It houses three reflector telescopes: an 11-inch Schmidt- Cassegranian that is permanently mounted under the dome, and two 8-inch Schmidt- Cassegranians that can be mounted outside on the deck. The telescopes were bought in the late 1970's, early 1980's with a grant from the National Science Foundation. The facility is used by the Stars and Stellars Lab (PHSC 113L) when the course is offered, and sections of Inquiry into the Natural World (CLAR102) will often spend an evening in the facility during the course of a semester.

However, the use of St. Bonaventure's observatory is not limited to a few particular classes. Dr. DiMattio and Dr. Kiefer try to have open houses in the Observatory for the general student population, often with the assistance of the Physics majors.  Students should watch the Notice Board for announcements of when the next open house will be. 

Site built by Ellen Winger during History 495 internship, Fall 2008. 
Any changes, other than minor editing, are noted below.

Last Updated: 07 May, 2015
Informaiton from:
Wilks, Guyan.
Looking at Heavenly Bodies. November 8, 2002. The Bonaventure.
Wlos. Observatory Opening set for Spring. September 9, 1989. The Bonaventure.
Tonya Littlefield. Weather clouds observatory use. November 2, 1990. The Bonaventure.