On a warm, summer night, you journey with your friends to the fields behind Farley. You collapse on the dewy grass and face upward to the great unknown. But wait, what are those lights above you? None other than outer space’s finest: the stars.
In most of the U.S., when we look up at the sky on a clear night, we see the moon shining alone in an expanse of darkness. Maine is unique in being one of the remaining places in the eastern U.S. where one can find pristine night skies. And Bowdoin introduces us to the night sky early: many students fondly remember gazing up and seeing the bright stars during their orientation trips. For some students who hail from heavily light-polluted areas, this may be the first time they have truly seen stars.
Even for students who aren’t outdoor adventurers, you can always find at least one star, if not a dozen, on a clear night walking back to your dorm from H-L. And the stars are alluring. We can’t help picking out our favorite constellations (shout out to Orion’s belt) or yearning to see a shooting star. They make us feel like children again, innocent and eager to explore what the larger world has to offer.
The Bowdoin Observatory is the perfect place to indulge this child-like excitement. After over 30 years out of commission, we could not be more thrilled that the College is considering reinstating the observatory on campus. We urge the College to follow through with this. The observatory can enhance not only academics on campus, but also the greater Bowdoin community for years to come.
Renovating the observatory would provide the College ample opportunities for academic and community-oriented programming. A broader number of courses would be able to take advantage of the space for learning opportunities. Course offerings could be expanded in physics and astronomy, but expansion could also include the incorporation of night sky observation into other courses within departments such as earth and oceanographic studies, English and visual arts. And students would enjoy taking advantage of the new space for time spent with peers or the opportunity to learn more about the stars outside of a class context, through community events and workshops.
Bowdoin currently offers two astronomy courses: Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics. Students taking Introductory Astronomy share new experiences like creating star trail photographs and observing the night sky through telescopes in the field. The introduction of more advanced telescopes and technology through the creation of a community observatory will also allow the course offerings and curriculum in this discipline to expand. More advanced astronomy courses could also appeal to physics majors and students interested in astronomy research. With access to Maine’s beautiful skies, a new observatory at Bowdoin would attract both students and professors if built with these perspectives in mind.
As the College is considering new building options—weighing a cheaper-budget roll-off roof observatory or a slightly more expensive dome-shaped observatory—we want to encourage the College to invest in the future of all Bowdoin students, and in our lasting relationships with the night sky. According to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Matt Orlando, the College is leaning towards the latter option in the name of accessibility and structural stability. We urge the College to pursue this option and prioritize the next observatory as a space that can foster a love for the stars in all students.
From first-years embarking on orientation trips in August to seniors reminiscing on time spent at the College as graduation approaches, students find some of their fondest moments in looking up at the stars. With the resources provided by a renovated observatory, these moments could allow us to more fully take advantage of the starry Maine skies during our time at Bowdoin.
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Julia Dickinson, Kaya Patel, Talia Traskos-Hart, Juliana Vandermark, Halina Bennet and Seamus Frey.