Cornwell on First-Year Seminar, Visit to Alum’s Observatory

By Purnell T. Cropper | October 1, 2010

By Ricky Cornwell ’14

I remember very clearly my first fieldtrip with my First-Year Seminar class, Night Skies of Pennsylvania, which took place on September 14. It was a peaceful and relaxing experience.

After meeting up outside of Taylor Hall, we got on our long, yellow school bus and drove off to Pipersville, Pa., to the home and observatory of Lauren Regan, an Arcadia University alumna. About 30 minutes after the bus pulled out of Arcadia and we were driving on the highway, our instructor, Dr. Plummer, had shouted out to everyone from the front of the bus that planet Venus was visible outside the left side of the bus, shining brightly outside in the clear orange and yellow sunset sky.

On the way there, we stopped to a grocery store to get some snacks for the bonfire that we had. It was pitch black outside other than the bus’s white headlights and all the surrounding house lights when we arrived at Lauren’s house, which was isolated from any urban life, located out in a wide-open area surrounded by grassy fields, woods, and cornfields. The night sky was absolutely perfect for observation because, with no clouds during the day, it was sprinkled with bright white stars, and it also had a few airplanes, satellites, and a bright white full moon way off in the same direction that we came from.

As everyone walked off the bus, stretching out from sitting for over an hour, Lauren greeted us outside the bus, welcomed us to her home, and led us to her spacious backyard, with long and thick logs set up in a short teepee fashion next to the cornfield. Before everyone sat down for the bonfire, Dr. Plummer educated us a little bit on what kind of stars we could see from where we were by pointing in certain directions in the sky and having us look in the same direction.

We saw the Big Dipper in the sky, an asterism, which is a group of stars that is not one of the 88 official constellations. Dr. Plummer pointed out to everybody that we could use the right edge of the cup shape of the big dipper to draw a straight line with our eyes to Polaris, the North Star, indicating that that direction is north.

We also saw an orange star called Arcturus, which we could find simply by following the arch shape of the handle of the big dipper left to the first isolated star we saw. We also saw the Summer Triangle, which involved looking straight up and finding the three brightest stars we saw.

About a half an hour later, people were surprised by the huge, six-foot bonfire that suddenly appeared from the teepee of logs. After we all sat down, ate snacks and s’mores, started taking turns going to the observatory, and enjoyed the tall bonfire, I reflected on all that happened so far on this trip and how it all not only gave me the opportunity to get away from college life for a little while, but how the peaceful atmosphere of the whole trip showed me just how much fun and interesting my seminar is.