For patrons of the Stanford Golf Course, the R2-D2esque silver dome is a familiar site demarcating the end of a round. For would-be astronomers and astrophysicists, the Student Observatory is a small-scale facility for exploring the mysteries of the universe.
Completed in 1973, the observatory was the vision of Nicholas Suntzeff, '74, and Michael Kast, '74, MS '76, who raised the funds and wrangled the red tape. The structure itself was designed by Kenneth Kornberg, '73, MS '73, and Gregory Howell, '65, MS '73, and built with help from faculty, staff and fellow students. "[Astronaut] Sally Ride ['73, MS '75, PhD '78] was in our first observatory class," recalls Suntzeff, now director of the astronomy program at Texas A&M.
Today, students in courses such as Physics 50 and 100 have the opportunity to take digital photographs of nebulas, redshifts and supernovas. "We can measure the spinning of asteroids across the universe and see shadows of a planet 100 light years away," says physics professor Roger Romani.
Elizabeth Clair, '11, is a Stanford intern.