Our new exhibit on display in Rockefeller Hall is a photo-history of astronomy here at Phillips Exeter Academy, ranging from the days prior to observatory construction to the present day. The range of studies has taken students from snow covered fields in winter, to domed observatories here and at professional facilities in Arizona.
2009 marks the anniversary of two important events: the first use of the telescope as a scientific instrument to study the skies by Galileo Galilei, and the 20th anniversary of the Grainger Observatory’s construction. To mark the former, the International Astronomical Union has declared 2009 the International Year of Astronomy and is hosting celebrations around the world to promote astronomy and astronomy education.
In October of 1989, the Academy opened the Grainger Observatory, the culmination of a dream held by the first observatory director, Dr. Chris Harper, who envisioned students making astronomical observations in a setting permanently established for the purpose. It was a huge leap from the days of bringing small telescopes out onto a snow covered roof of the then science building (now the Academy Center).
Now twenty years after the construction of the Grainger Observatory, the facility houses three domed observatories, a solar telescope, library, and digital Harkness classroom. The observatory has been keeping up with the ever present technological changes over the years: from film to electronic CCD cameras, manually operated telescope mounts to completely robotic and remotely operable observatories.
Used by the Academy’s three astronomy courses and the summer school program, the observatory is also open to the public and surrounding community on a regular basis. Local elementary and high school visits are common, as well as requests from researchers at colleges and universities around the world.