posted November 18, 2002

Observatory Celebration Is Nov. 22

 The Harry F. Frissel Observatory at Hope College will be celebrated with a variety of events on Friday, Nov. 22, including an open house and lecture.

The observatory, located on the roof of VanderWerf Hall, became operational during the 2001-02 school year. It was built with support from a $20,000 grant from Dr. James W. Seeser of St. Louis, Mo., through the Saint Louis Community Foundation, given in memory of former Hope physics professor Dr. Harry Frissel.

Activities will include an open house that will feature (weather permitting) the telescope in action on Friday during three one-hour periods: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The observatory is reached through the main second-floor hallway of VanderWerf Hall, which is located on 10th Street between Central and College avenues.

On Friday at 3 p.m., Seeser will discuss "The Making of the Mirrors for the Chandra X-ray Telescope" in room 102 of VanderWerf Hall. The Chandra X-ray Observatory is a satellite that orbits the earth one third of the distance to the moon. Launched in July of 1999, Chandra observes X-rays from high-energy regions of the universe, such as the remnants of exploded stars.

The public is invited to the open house and the seminar. Admission is free.

There will also be a banquet in the evening for invited guests to celebrate the event.

The observatory at Hope features a 12-inch telescope in a six-foot-diameter, computer-controlled dome, as well as related equipment. The telescope offers its views of the heavens not to rooftop-based humans looking through it with the naked eye, but via computer control and cable connections that make its images available in classrooms and laboratories throughout VanderWerf Hall.

The college has had at least two other permanent observatories in its history. The first, the Maria L. Ackerman Hoyt Observatory, was built in 1894 on a hill near Columbia Avenue and 12th Street. The observatory and hill were removed in 1941. The second was built by then-senior Jim Riggs in 1976 with the encouragement of the late Dr. Richard Brockmeier, who was a member of the Hope physics and computer science faculties from 1966 to 1993 and had a strong interest in astronomy, teaching the course at Hope until 1993. Also since removed, it was located on the Buys Athletic Fields near Fairbanks Avenue.

Seeser taught at Hope from 1970 to 1976, serving on the physics faculty and computer science faculty. He recommended the Hope observatory project in Frissel's honor in recognition of Frissel's mentorship while they were faculty colleagues at Hope. Frissel, who was on the college's physics faculty from 1948 until retiring in 1985 and served as department chair during Seeser's tenure, died on March 18, 2000, at age 79.

Seeser subsequently went into industry, and he is retired as vice president-technology from Optical Coating Laboratory Inc. (OCLI), a Division of JDS Uniphase, after 18 years of service in various technical and business roles. OCLI was the subcontractor for the iridium coating placed on the Chandra mirrors.