The Insperity Observatory in Humble ISD reopened its doors to the public Dec. 4 after a long closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Aaron Clevenson, director of the observatory, shared his thoughts regarding the reopening. He explained that he and his fellow researchers have been following strict safety protocols due to the pandemic and were thus forced to close for several months over the summer. Recently they reopened for the public once again (although the internal facility is still closed).
To creatively allow the public to still interact with the observatory, Clevenson said, “Currently, we project images that are relayed by our telescopes onto a wall outside of the building so visitors can still gain a meaningful experience.”
Allowing the public to have purposeful interactions with space is one of the observatory’s central goals, according to Clevenson. He said, “Our primary goal is to serve the students of Humble ISD as well as the general public. Under normal circumstances, we host a public night on the first Friday of each month, which we are seeking to continue to do, COVID-19 permitting.”
Clevenson explained that the observatory is run by a team of fellow volunteers who conduct their own research at the observatory. Traditionally, the observatory hosts a variety of Humble ISD elementary, middle and high-school students, whether it be in the form of a field trip or a more academically tailored experience for high-school students taking astronomy. Although their guidelines currently disallow for such large gatherings, Clevenson is optimistic to continue serving Humble ISD students in the future.
The Insperity Observatory also hosts a slew of events for the public, such as solar eclipse, meteor shower and transit viewings. Clevenson described one event of interest, the great conjunction between the planets of Jupiter and Saturn, which occurred Dec. 21. The last time an observable great conjunction came this close (in terms of the degrees of the planets) occurred in 1226, well before telescopes were invented. The observatory hosted a socially distanced event for this special occasion on the 21st from 5-6 p.m. for those interested. This event was able to be seen with the naked eye, but one assisted their view with a pair of binoculars or telescope for a better observational experience.
The astronomers who volunteer at the Insperity Observatory are allowed to conduct their own research after business hours, Clevenson explained. Many of the volunteers are working to obtain their own respective certifications and conduct research across a variety of subjects. Some focus on photography (taking and processing photographs of solar objects), while others focus on data collection and storage. The observatory contains three large automated (computerized) telescopes that are used for research. One of the telescopes is a 6-inch Takashi refractor, which, according to Clevenson, “is the largest commercially available in the world.” The observatory also has a 16-inch telescope and a 20-inch telescope.
In terms of future goals, Clevenson said, “We are always looking for opportunities to enhance the experiences of students as well as the public, even during times like these.”
The Insperity Observatory is currently working with Humble ISD to create an independent facility to house a radioastronomy telescope, which will allow for further research as well as national registration.
Clevenson encourages those interested in visiting the Insperity Observatory during a public night to visit humbleisd.net/observatory. Currently, all events are held outdoors and masks/social distancing are required for all visitors.