A visit to a tropical island to watch the sun set and the stars come out can be quite the romantic night and at the Etelman Observatory you can get a up-close look at those celestial bodies. The Etelman Observatory is located on top of Crown Mountain on the island of St. Thomas in the USVI. The observatory sits at a 1,325-foot elevation and is operated by the University of the Virgin Islands, the College of Charleston, and South Carolina State University. The other-worldly observation post is kept running by an army of volunteers. The Etelman Observatory is open to the public once a month and gives the visitors the chance to look through their automated Cassegrain Telescope. You may get the chance to take a good look at our moon, Jupiter, a globular cluster and other galaxies.
The observatory was one of the facilities that took part in the direct observation of gravitational waves caused by the collision of two neutron stars. A neutron star is the extremely dense core of a long dead giant star and is only about 12 miles in diameter, or as they point out the size of St. Thomas. A spoonful of neutron star would weigh more than the largest cruise ships. The observation of the collision has given great insight into the creation of many elements such as gold and platinum.
We most recently received an update on the observatory from its director, David Morris, about how they fared in the hurricanes.
Etelman Observatory suffered some roof damage to the science center building which has led to new water leaks, but the dome survived and as far as they know, the science instruments are probably ok. They don’t know for certain because they are without power and haven’t been able to test them since the storms. They hope to have power and do a more complete systems check sometime in the next month or so.
In the meanwhile, and until they have regular power restored, they won’t be able to open the observatory to the public. Hopefully they’ll regain power soon and then can go back to their regular open observing events. The meteorologic events won’t stop the astronomy and they will begin holding public outreach astrophysics events on the UVI campus using their new portable planetarium which was recently acquired by a new physics faculty member, Dr. Antonino Cucchiara, through a grant program. The observatory hopes to begin semi-regular planetarium events that will continue on after the observatory is re-opened to the public.
The university, like a lot of the Virgin Islands, needs a little help recovering. If you would like to contribute to their work, donations can be made by check to UVI with a notation that they are designated specifically for the Etelman Observatory (in the check notation line). Send your check to: 2 John Brewers Bay Road, St. Thomas, USVI 00802 C/O David Morris, College of Science and Mathematics.