Embry-Riddle Adds Six Telescopes to Growing Astronomy Program

The observation deck on the roof of the College of Arts and Sciences (COAS), at the entrance of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach Campus, is currently under construction, being expanded to accommodate the addition of six new telescopes.

With a seventh telescope on the way later this fall, funded by a research project for satellite tracking, the new equipment is “desperately needed to accommodate the booming enrollments” in the campus’ Astronomy and Astrophysics bachelor’s program, according to Dr. Terry Oswalt, professor of Engineering Physics and associate dean of the COAS.

Since the Astronomy and Astrophysics program’s inception in 2015, it has grown by an average of 22 students per year to 187 majors, including its largest first-year class to date: 70 new students who are expected to arrive this fall.

“In terms of degrees earned per year, our young program is already among the largest U.S. astronomy bachelor’s programs tracked by the American Institute of Physics,” Oswalt said. “We are tied for the 12th largest among 93 Bachelor of Science in Astronomy and Astrophysics programs in the country, comparable to much larger institutions.”

The demand for general education astronomy lab courses has grown, as well, he added. And, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Astronomy Open House events regularly attracted several hundred visitors from the campus community.

“The observing facilities on the COAS roof support all these activities,” Oswalt said.

The new refractor telescopes — which Oswalt referred to as “top-of-the-line” — are six inches in diameter and, with the associated cameras, can detect light that is several thousand times fainter than the naked eye. They are nearly identical to those already on the observation deck.

Additionally, the existing one-meter telescope at the COAS also recently received a boost, with a research grade camera add-on that will go into service this fall, courtesy of a donor.

“With this telescope and research-grade camera, students will have more opportunities to perform photometry research,” said Dr. Tomomi Otani, assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy, who’s leading research to investigate the evolution of subdwarf B stars, mysterious post-main sequence stars with high temperatures and gravity. “Both undergraduate and graduate student researchers will participate in this investigation.”

With the new camera on the one-meter telescope, students will also undertake other astronomical classroom and research projects, such as estimating stars’ ages, detecting exoplanets orbiting other stars and more.