Galaxies, Nebulae, Planets, Oh My! Physics Department Hosts Weekly Observatory Open House

Students set up telescope for Department of Physics Open House

Every week, the Rhodes College Department of Physics invites members of the community to open their eyes to marvels beyond earth’s atmosphere with Observatory Open Houses. Come view the night sky on the sixth floor of the Rhodes Tower on the viewing deck and in the dome.

Physics and astronomy professor Dr. David Rupke has been welcoming students outside the department into the observatory since he arrived at Rhodes in 2010. He has transitioned the program into a weekly event to encourage student involvement and more opportunities for clear views of the night sky.

“I always wanted Observatory Open Houses to be student-led because it’s a great learning experience for the students,” says Rupke. “They’re the ones who get excited and really provide a vibrant experience for the people that do come.”

Those who visit the observatory deck can expect to see anything from stars to galaxies, with the added benefit of brief explanations from physics major Anna Murphree ’21, who coordinates the weekly open houses. Murphree gets ready for the open houses by setting up eight smaller telescopes on the observatory deck for viewing planets and, in the winter, the Orion Nebula. She also prepares the 20” PlaneWave reflecting telescope specifically for studying objects that are further away, such as supernova remnants and the Ring Nebula.

“The secret is that anyone can learn how to use these telescopes if they want to, and I can train them,” says Murphree. “It’s mainly physics kids who are interested in that, but it’s open really to anyone. There’s actually a man from the community who often brings his young sons. They had never seen a planet with their own eyes before when they first came. This is why we do this.”

Students, alumni, and members of the Memphis community are welcome to visit the Rhodes Tower each Wednesday 8-10 p.m., weather permitting. For photos and weather updates, visit @rhodesastronomy on Facebook and Instagram.

By Jaclyn Flood ’21