Westmont Magazine Sharper Focus on Astronomy
After more than 50 years, Westmont will retire its 16-inch Newtonian telescope from Carroll Observatory and install a 24-inch F/8 Cassegrain with Ritchey-Chrétien optics. The new instrument features more than twice the light-gathering power of the old one and nearly twice the resolving power.
A $300,000 W. M. Keck Foundation grant for the telescope follows a $90,000 award from the James L. Stamps Foundation and a $15,000 gift from another foundation. College officials are working to secure the remaining funds for the $635,000 project.
Obtaining the research-grade telescope meets one of Westmont’s funding priorities: improving the quality of science facilities and equipment. The arrival of the new instrument contributes to the evolution of the physics department into a physics and astronomy program. This change may encourage more women to study physics as they have traditionally shown a strong interest in astronomy.
“We are ready to take another step forward in science education at Westmont,” says President Stan D. Gaede. “Not only will the telescope provide a valuable resource for our general education curriculum, but it offers an opportunity to transform our very fine physics department into a physics and astronomy program.”
“This telescope will be a magnet for astronomy enthusiasts around Santa Barbara and the South Coast,” says Michael Sommermann, professor of physics. “It will become a focal point for astronomical research by faculty and students in areas such as the photometry of variable stars, minor planet observations and much more.”
Once a month, in conjunction with Santa Barbara’s Astronomical Unit, Westmont opens its observatory to local residents. An expanded astronomy program and a more powerful telescope will provide new opportunities for outreach to children and students in Santa Barbara schools and the community.