University students enjoy vistas of the Great Orion Nebula through LSU’s Landolt Telescope atop Nicholson Hall. In the swath of sky above, the lower torso of the Orion constellation is visible, including the three belt stars and the famous nebulosity below them, which plots a point in the Hunter’s scabbard.
The incorporeal figure at right, Dr. Bradley Schaefer, opens the observatory for public viewing every first quarter moon of spring and fall semesters. Between slewing to celestial targets and fielding questions from a curious public, Dr. Schaefer tasks his students with thinking-cap questions for bonus points.
Faint red light illuminates the observatory, while preserving night vision. 10 to 20 second exposures were my “sweet spot” for gathering enough light for capture.
About the observatory…
After nearly 15 years of neglect, a group of students and professional astronomers restored the nigh 80-year-old structure, dedicating it to Professor Arlo U. Landolt for lasting contributions to LSU astronomy and the field of photometry. Landolt devised a process that uses the intrinsic brightness of stable stars to calibrate light-sensing instruments. The methodology is employed worldwide to this day.
The refracting telescope is a fabrication of Alvan Clark & Sons, best known for behemoths like the 24” aperture scope at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona and the 40” at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. Remarkably, the optical system does not degrade, so it was merely cleaned during restoration, not resurfaced.
The Landolt has a comparatively modest 11.5” primary lens, but its prowess in lunar and planetary renderings is unlike any of the sort you’ll experience in south Louisiana. I call it the ‘elegant beastie’, because the classical brass tubing and exquisite optics make for an odd marriage with the creaks and shrieks of the aging scope and dome. When the scope is released from manual control, it tracks in astronomical time (sidereal time), compensating for the Earth’s rotation.
We’re so fortunate to have this historical gem operational!