Continuing a tradition developed by Maria Mitchell during her tenure as the first director (1865–84), the Observatory hosts a party for physics and astronomy students and faculty towards the end of each semester. The primary features of the party, set by tradition, are a potluck dinner, the reading of poetry composed on an astronomical theme (physics is also acceptable), local physics-astronomy community building, and fun.
Annual Physics and Astronomy Picnic
Held in May. Junior and senior prizes are announced.
On Wednesday nights from 9:00–11:00 p.m. during the school year, visitors from the community and campus are welcome to drop in at the observatory for open nights, weather permitting. Activities generally center on visual observing with the large telescope, but electronic image capture is also an option, as is informal discussion with the observatory staff. If weather or schedule is doubtful, contact the Department of Physics and Astronomy at (845) 437-7340 before 4:30 p.m., or call the observatory at (845) 437-7679 after 8:50 p.m.
Special Astronomy Events
The observatory also hosts special events by appointment. We sometimes need to reserve the telescopes for research activities, but we also try to accommodate visits by groups of up to 25 from primary and secondary schools, scouting and adult education programs, campus organizations, and alums. Please contact the Department of Physics and Astronomy for details at (845) 437-7340.
Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC)
The KNAC is a consortium of astronomy faculty and students at eight small liberal arts colleges in the northeast (Vassar, Colgate, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams). The goals of the consortium, founded in 1990 with funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation, are to promote astronomy research and foster interactions. KNAC is now a National Science Foundation REU “site” (spread over the eight campuses). The member colleges have similar telescopes and equipment, but the astronomers each tend to specialize in different areas of astronomy. Students can apply for summer internships (much like the Undergraduate Research Summer Institute [URSI]) at another institution in the consortium, so that they can experience research in fields outside of their home institution’s specialties. Each October, about 100 students and faculty from the KNAC colleges meet at one of the campuses for a Student Symposium, at which the summer interns present their research; they also write a paper on their work for the Conference Proceedings. The KNAC summer experience is an excellent opportunity for students to get a start in astronomy research and to cultivate professional contacts; it often leads to jobs at other national REU sites.