Reviving Interest in a Campus Observatory

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Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action

Reviving Interest in a Campus Observatory


Sasha Toole, SPS Chapter Copresident, Mount Holyoke College


SPS members pose in the Williston Observatory. All photos courtesy of the Mount Holyoke College SPS chapter.

Williston Observatory sits on the edge of Mount Holyoke College’s campus, an unknown entity to most students. The building hosts only one class and otherwise stands empty in the wake of a struggling astronomy department. But this hidden gem holds potential for fascinating explorations into the starry night. When the observatory recently acquired new user-friendly telescopes, our SPS chapter saw a golden opportunity to revive the landmark, which was at risk of being destroyed.

On ten Saturday and Sunday nights over the course of a semester, our SPS chapter hosted open hours at the Williston Observatory. We invited students, staff, and members of the public to attend.


SPS members show off the new telescopes.

On clear nights we helped attendees view celestial objects through the new Unistellar eVscope telescopes. The telescopes are user-friendly—you can control their GPS-based positioning system through an app. Attendees also looked through the observatory’s hallmark 24-inch Ritchey-Chrétien reflecting telescope at objects in the solar system, and they enjoyed cider donuts as we described the objects they were seeing and answered questions. 

On cloudy nights, we gathered in the observatory’s classroom with snacks and hot beverages to watch sci-fi media, including the movie Interstellar and episodes of Star Trek.


One of the new telescopes reveals a stellar view of M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Through these events, we generated interest in the Williston Observatory and demonstrated its value not only for students but also for any curious mind. Many of our open hours had great turnouts, and they caught the attention of neighboring Smith College, Hampshire College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Moreover, we have received countless requests to continue hosting open hours.

Our chapter has enjoyed sharing the joys of the observatory, the oldest academic building on campus, with students from inside and outside of our astronomy and physics departments. One evening the entire lacrosse team came to observe, the majority of which did not even know there was an observatory on campus! It was a privilege to bring interest back to the observatory, and we hope to hold more events in the future.

Get Money for Chapter Outreach Events

To facilitate this project, the Mount Holyoke SPS chapter applied for and received a Marsh W. White Award from SPS. These awards, of up to $600, are available for chapter programs or events that promote an interest in physics or astronomy among students or the general public. Applications are due November 15. Learn more at



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