Astronomy Club

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Useful Observing Tools

General Info, Key Usage Rules

The Physics Department maintains and operates its astronomical observatories for use in its classes on Astronomy. The admininstration and operation of the Astronomy Club of Virginia Tech is independent of the Physics Department. A Physics Department faculty member acts as an advisor for the Club, and as the contact between the Physics Department and the Club. The current faculty advisor is

The primary purpose of the Astronomy Club is to provide interested students with access to the Physics Department's Prices Fork Observatory. All students are eligible; members are not required to be physics majors.
To obtain access to the Prices Fork Observatory, Astronomy Club members must do the following:

  1. Pay the annual dues to the treasurer of the club.
  2. Attend a checkout session for training in operating the telescope and dome. These checkout sessions are usually conducted as part of a club meeting. You will learn the procedures for the proper use of the Prices Fork Observatory, and the rules for use of the Prices Fork Observatory key.

Using the Prices Fork Observatory

The Prices Fork Observatory is used for university classes, for public sky shows, and by the members of the Astronomy Club. To get access to the key, club members must pay the club dues, go through a brief checkout training session at the observatory.

As part of the checkout procedure for new users, you will be shown how to set up and use the various telescope at the Prices Fork Observatory. In particular notice the following:

  1. A list labeled "OPENING PROCEDURE: C14" is posted on the inside of the observatory dome. PLEASE follow its step-by-step instructions to set up and use the C14. Since it's all written down on this list, you won't have to remember each step!
  2. A list labeled "CLOSING PROCEDURE" is also posted (upstairs and downstairs). Again, you won't need to remember these things since it's all written down --- just PLEASE follow the list, step by step.
  3. The use of advanced equipment and accessories is outlined in the blue binder labeled "Prices Fork Observatory Manual." When in any doubt as to usage, check with a club officer or the Observatory Coordinator prior to use. Nearly all the equipment (including the telescope) is fragile, and expensive.
  4. Minor equipment problems should be reported for repair to the Observatory Coordinator on the next weekday. If the problem can't wait (e.g., you can't get the dome to close) call the Coordinator immediately.
  5. DO NOT attempt to repair, clean, or otherwise physically alter any of the equipment!
  6. NOTHING WHATSOEVER (telescopes, equipment, books, etc.) is to be removed from the observatory by anyone without prior approval of the Observatory coordinator. Penalty: revocation of key privileges.
Note that the classes and public shows sometimes occur at the observatory. The events take precedence over club activities. Public open houses generally take place on Friday evenings during the fall and spring semesters. There is a "Virginia Tech Observatory Recorded Message" which can be heard by dialing 231-5719. On the evening of a class, or public event, it may contain a message indicating whether or not the event is taking place.

Rules for the Use of the Prices Fork Observatory Key

While there is only one key, there are many hours in a day. So, to enable efficient use of the observatory, club members must be able to contact the person who has the key, and possibly join the key holder at the observatory. Therefore, the following simple rules apply.

The rules can be summed up as follows: sign out the key on your way to the observatory and bring it back to the sign out desk immediately after you finish using the observatory.

The key is kept at the Virginia Tech Police dispatcher's desk, behind the Lane Stadium, on Southgate Drive. The dispatcher's desk is manned 24 hours per day.

  1. If you have the key you must be at the observatory. There is only one exception to this rule: you are on your way to the observatory from the sign out desk, or coming back from the observatory to the sign out desk.
  2. If, when you have the key, you cannot be found at the observatory (with the exception mentioned in rule 1 above), you may lose your key privileges. Complaints should be addressed to the Observatory Coordinator.
  3. The key holder may not deny access to the observatory to any other club member who wishes to join him there. However, the key holder has first choice over the use of telescope and other equipment.
  4. [There is one exception to this rule: If, for reasons of safety or the protection of the observatory, in the key holder's judgment a club member and/or guest(s) should not be allowed access to the observatory, the key holder should immediately contact the Observatory Coordinator. If the Coordinator cannot be reached, the key holder can deny access to the other person(s). If you are really in a jam, call the Police (dial 911).]
  5. The person who signed out the key is officially in control of the key. Furthermore, the person who signed out the key is officially responsible for whatever happens at/to the observatory while the key is signed out. Thus, whatever he/she decides is final. However, club members are urged to be nice to each other!
  6. The key holder must return the key to the sign out desk, in person. Violation of this rule will result in revocation of key privileges.

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Virginia Tech Physics Department