Standeford Observatory shines bright

Located on the south edge of campus, Standeford Observatory allows Minnesota State students to not only gaze at the stars, but shoot for them too. 

The observatory was named after former faculty member Leo Standeford who acquired small telescopes for students and staff to use. The 15 10-inch telescopes are rolled out onto a concrete deck for students to see planets, deep sky objects and binary stars.

Assistant Professor Michael Rutkowski explained that over 400 people have visited Standeford to gain extra credit in their 101 courses. Additionally, Observational Astronomy 125 is taught at Standeford to give students hands-on experience with the night sky. 

“It satisfies a lab science credit and I think it’s a bit more appealing than a physics lab. By the end of the semester, students know where 50 interesting objects are in the night sky,” Rutkowski said. “If you want to get outside and do something, it’s a really neat way.”

Once students have taken Astronomy 125, they are able to work as lab assistants at the observatory. Senior Samantha Sunnarborg is a physics major with a minor in astronomy who took the opportunity, and loves answering questions at work. 

“Sometimes I’ll get a group of students say ‘It’s a nice night and we wanted to come by,’ and I get to talk to them about what’s in the sky and show them some fun things that they’ve probably never seen before,” Sunnarborg said. 

Sunnarborg explained that working at Standeford helped cement fundamental astronomy knowledge in her head. 

“Every time you go, you have to try to remember everything and find it on your own without any help. You have to remember what all these terms mean and explain them to other people,” Sunnarborg said. “Observational Astronomy has been the baseline of all my knowledge. I wouldn’t know where anything was if I wasn’t working at Standeford.”

Rutkowski explained that MSU has a unique opportunity in astronomy as students have to learn to maneuver the telescopes as they aren’t automated. He explained that with automated telescopes it’s like putting directions into a GPS without actually knowing how to get someplace, an art becoming lost.

“It’s very much its own language as it was a new way of thinking about the universe,” Rutkowski said. “If you want to exercise that part of your brain and learn how you’re connected to the night sky, then this is the ideal course for you.”

Sunnarborg said students with an interest in astronomy should consider working at Standeford. 

“It’s a great way to dip your toe into the water without committing to anything, especially if you’re not sure if you want to start taking classes where you have to put the work in,” Sunnarborg said. “It’s a great way to test it all out.”

While Standeford is closed for the remainder of the semester, students can visit Standeford starting the last week in March between 9-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday if the weather is clear.

Header photo: Michael Rutkowski poses with two of the telescopes students are allowed to use at Standeford Observatory. Students can gain hands-on experience in Observational Astronomy 125 to better navigate the night sky. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)

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