I teach astronomy at The University of Toledo, and I’m known as “Prof. B.” My job is part technical and part inspirational. The excitement of the recent, historic solar eclipse touched hearts and sparked the imaginations of generations of families across the country who crowded streets to witness something powerful in the universe.
Here at UT’s Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory, we also are planning to celebrate a major milestone and are in need of the public’s help to share our rich history of education, outreach and celestial exploration. Friday, Oct. 13, will mark the 50th anniversary of the University’s astronomy program, Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory. We’re in search of your stories and memories to better tell our story.As a child, my first visit to a planetarium involved marveling at one of the old “star ball” projectors, but since then I have enjoyed being transported to black holes and other worlds with increasingly beautiful full-dome movies. These visits certainly had an impact on me, for I went on to earn my doctorate in astronomy.
The Ritter Planetarium and Brooks Observatory are woven into the tapestry of this region. What do you remember from your visit?
In the 1920s, astronomy courses were offered through the Math Department at UT, so Professor Helen Brooks would bring students to her house to look through her personal telescope.
The Ritter facility was dedicated Oct. 13, 1967, with Brooks as the first planetarium director. The Brooks Observatory located in the dome on top of McMaster Hall was later named in honor of Brooks and her late husband, Elgin. The 1-meter-diameter telescope housed on top of the Ritter building is the largest optical telescope in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
The Ritter facility was deliberately planned to blend research and public education for the University, local schools and the community. One of the joys of astronomy is that people are inherently curious about it, and so sharing our research and our telescopes with the community have been vital in our mission from the beginning.
Helen Brooks died in 2011, two years before I came to Toledo. I never had the chance to meet her, but some of you did. I would like to learn more about your experiences. Did you attend any of the special events, such as for Apollo 11 and the impact of the Shoemaker-Levy Comet on Jupiter? Have you taken your family to experience programs in the planetarium or public viewings with telescopes in the observatories?
Additionally, with your permission, I would like to share your stories through a poster presentation at the Astronomy Open House at Ritter Planetarium Thursday, Oct. 26, to show the strong connection this community has for astronomy.
Please send your stories to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail a letter to The University of Toledo Department of Physics and Astronomy at Mail Stop 111, 2801 W. Bancroft St., Toledo, OH 43606.
I look forward to reading your stories. Keep looking up!
Bornak is an associate lecturer in the Physics and Astronomy Department and chair of the UT Astronomy 50th Anniversary Committee.