Val Germann, MU professor Angela Speck lead Laws telescopes’ reconditioning

Cosmic Conversation lecture series kicks off.
Freshman Ian Stratta catches a glimpse of Jupiter through one of the university's two telescopes in Laws Observatory on Wednesday evening. The observatory will be open to the public every Wednesday night for the remainder of the semester, weather permitting.

Four-year-old Vance Arrant pointed to the solar system's largest planet and said “Ju-pi-ter.”

Graduate student David Arrant quizzed his son over a model of the solar system as attendees of the year's first Cosmic Conversations lecture waited to peer into the newly-refurbished telescope housed at Laws Observatory.

“The (telescope) optics are pristine again,” lecturer Val Germann said. “They’re back to where they were.”

From 8 to 10 p.m. every Wednesday, the telescopes housed on the top floor of the physics building are open to the public. The second Wednesday of the month features a guest speaker on any subject “vaguely astronomical,” associate astronomy professor Angela Speck said.

Speck founded Cosmic Conversations in conjunction with the Laws Observatory and Central Missouri Astronomical Association, a local amateur astronomy association.

Germann said viewers can expect to see Jupiter through one of two main telescopes.

“Tonight we were seeing (Jupiter’s) serrated rings,” he said. “They look like lasagna noodles.”

Arrant praised Germann’s ability to make the stars accessible to the general public.

“He knows his stars," Arrant said. "He’s been around long enough to know what to expect."

Germann is one of the members of the Columbia community who also worked to recondition the telescopes. When it’s humid, condensation from the sheet metal clam shells visible atop physics drip onto the telescope, he said.

CMAA volunteer Randy Durk said the barrel of the scope was rusty-looking and had run marks on it.

“So we basically took the (telescope’s) drum off, repainted it, repainted the outside and took it apart, cleaned the mirrors and the glass,” Durk said. “And that makes a big difference. You could see a little more detail on Jupiter, in my opinion. But, of course, we’ve got a really good sky tonight.”

Germann also awaits Comet PanSTARRS that he said will most likely be visible in mid-March. It is the first of two bright comets expected in 2013.

“The comet could be a worldwide spectacle,” he said.

He related his disappointment following Comet Kohoutek’s hype. Buying a new telescope, Germann expected to see something amazing. His telescope was fine, he said. But the comet wasn’t. It didn’t show up.

“Tank city," Germann said.

The view is dependent upon the stillness of the air and the amount of light that streams in from Stankowski Field’s light, Germann said.

“Everything has to be right. April and May! The best stargazing is ahead,” he said.

As students, volunteers and members of the community stood in line at the observatory bathed in red light, Arrant waited for his son’s answer.

“Is Pluto a planet?”

“Dwarf!”

Vance never let go of his Buzz Lightyear.

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