With wide smiles, ardent applause and smartphone cameras quick to capture the moment, a shared pride and excitement was palpable this weekend as, just a year after its groundbreaking, Lowell Observatory’s Giovale Open Deck Observatory (GODO) opened to the public.
“The community at large is so special here in Flagstaff that, without them, this couldn’t be possible,” said Ginger Giovale. She and her husband, John, a longtime member of the Lowell advisory board, were the lead donors for the project. “It’s actually more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.”
John Giovale called the GODO a stepping stone in the Mars Hill master plan.
“There’s hundreds of thousands of visitors that will come and look through these telescopes,” he said to a crowd of more than 50 people at the ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday, during which free admission and activities were offered to guests all day. “Hopefully there’s going to be thousands of young people. … It’s just that one kid that looks through the telescope and says, ‘I want to do this for a living.’ That’s what makes Ginger and I very delighted.”
Lowell Director Jeffrey Hall referred to the $4 million, 4,300-square-foot facility as the “twinkle” in the nonprofit’s eye.
“This is just an incredible facility and beautifully built and it’s going to be a treasure on Mars Hill for a long time to come,” Hall said during the ceremony.
Deceptively simple from afar, the structure features a plethora of tools and exhibits for both day and nighttime visitors. The focal point, of course, is the six new telescopes affixed to the deck. With a touch of a button (once visitors have been safely moved), the roof of the facility slides back with a whirr, giving the devices -- and the public -- a taste of the night sky in what Lowell officials are calling “stargazing reimagined.”
Of the six telescopes, four have eyepieces, while two are attached to dimmed screens that show the light composition or videos of distant objects. These high-tech devices are all specially programmed to find objects in the night sky and maintain them in the frame, even as the earth rotates, and they are all controllable using iPads.
For the first time on Mars Hill, three of the telescopes with eyepieces can also be lowered and raised for ADA accessibility.
“It’s wild that we have such top-of-the-line tools that we can operate for the public. I’m blown away,” said Ariel Daniel, public program educator, who added the Lowell educators spent at least eight hours learning how to use the new telescopes.
Along the north wall, a spectroscopy display glowing with all the colors of the spectrum asks users to select the objects based on its composition and a door leads to a classroom that can double as a warming room during the winter.
“It’s a lot nicer in the evening than just having a telescope or two sitting around on the ground. It’s a lot of technology that people can learn about and appreciate,” said Stan Sutherland, a decade-long Lowell member and former volunteer educator, who added that the facility fulfills Percival Lowell’s desire to blend research with public education.
The facility is surrounded by features with a soft red glow, including exhibits about different objects in the galaxy and a donor wall recognizing the many contributors who together funded the entire project.
During the day, 80 quotes and equations about astronomy and the night sky are visible along the railing encircling the deck, featuring the wisdom of famous figures from astronomers to poets, as well as plinths demonstrating the spot where the sun rises and sets on the solstices and equinoxes and a planisphere showing visitors a diagram of the night sky for any date, both in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Even when the telescopes are enclosed, porthole windows the same diameter as each of the telescopes provide glimpses into the structure.
Stairs to the deck currently point to an undeveloped section of the campus, which will eventually host the next phase of the Mars Hill master plan: the Astronomy Discovery Center, a $29 million visitor and exhibit facility scheduled to open in 2023.
For now, though, the GODO itself provides plenty of new tools to please visitors of all types.
Lifelong Flagstaff resident Brie Wells, who attended the opening with her father, said she was drawn to the colorful, vibrant look of the GODO.
“You can definitely see how things have changed,” she said, looking just past the donor wall to the 1928 Pluto Dome while other visitors crowded around the telescopes, each with an awe the Giovales had hoped for all along.
Ginger told attendees at the grand opening, “Come often and enjoy this. This is for you.”
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (928) 556-2253.