By Melissa Benton |Staff Writer|
The $3 million state-of-the-art Murillo Family Observatory is the only teaching facility of its kind in the Inland Empire.
The observatory held its official ribbon cutting ceremony on Nov. 18. Its official open house was scheduled for Jan. 27, but was canceled due to high winds.
Another open house is in the works and is looking to be scheduled at the end of March.
The observatory was named for George and Pauline Murillo, their family and the San Manuel tribal members who made major contributions to finance it.
The Murillo family matched the donation initially made by the W. M. Keck Foundation, which provided the funding for all the instruments.
The observatory contains two telescopes, one primarily for day use and the other for night. It also has an observation deck, seating and more room for future classroom facilities.
Winter 2012 astronomy classes are the first to use the observatory and get hands-on experience with the equipment.
“The observatory is multi-purpose. It’s for teaching, undergraduate research and it’s an outreach to local schools,” said Dr. Laura Woodney, CSUSB’s only full-time astronomy professor.
Woodney is currently having one K-12 class bussed in once a week to learn in the observatory. She believes it is important to get local kids excited about astronomy, science and education.
“We want it to create an exciting opportunity for the campus. We want the beautiful facility to inspire students in astronomy and education. It’s a great way to show off Cal State,” said Woodney.
Woodney shares lab responsibilities with Paul Gardner. Gardner helps run the observatory as the head engineer.
According to Woodney, the observatory would not be running if it had not been for Gardner and the volunteer students who work with him.
The observatory and its findings can be accessed from Woodney’s home.
She explains that, while she’s working on her lectures or grading papers, she can open the dome and operate the automating 20-inch telescope at home. Woodney is in the process of trying to acquire a grant to have a full-time staff for the observatory.
With it fully staffed, the observatory could be open at all times for the public to explore.
“These are exciting times, but it’s a slow-moving process. It’s a lot of work, and we don’t have a lot of people. We open the observatory when we can, but we don’t foresee the funding to happen anytime soon,” said Woodney.
Woodney has high hopes for what the observatory could do for all students in the Inland Empire.
“I hope that it will share a love of science with all local students. Not all of them need to become astronomers. I just want them to look at the wonders of the universe and hope it inspires them to want to continue their education and to learn about science. Science can be fun,” Woodney continued.
The official Facebook page for the Murillo Family Observatory contains information and pictures available to anyone that is interested.