Middle Tennessee State University's observatory complex utilizes a design that includes the traditional dome-shaped structure housing the main telescope, combined with an adjacent plaza serving as a continuous-use, self-guided, hands-on, naked-eye observatory. The traditional facility will house a 16" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, fitted with a CCD camera that will feed the telescopic field to two 61" flat panel plasma displays mounted in the northern and eastern walls of the observatory. The image will also be 'pushed' to the Internet, and the entire operation is controllable by computer from virtually anywhere in the world.
The total concept of this project is unique, and the facility will be invaluable for astronomy education and for the general public. The naked-eye structure is reminiscent of " Stonehenge " in that a series of 12 columns, uniformly spaced, circumscribe the naked-eye plaza. The columns provide observers a series of pointers that can be used to locate astronomical objects and serve the role of gnomons when tracking the apparent motion of the Sun.
Instruction sheets describing various astronomical exercises are available at the observatory and over the Internet. Interested parties can simply follow the instructions on the sheet to make their observations. We believe the observatory complex to be a popular venue for science classes of all ages, home-schoolers, scout troops, various clubs, families, and individuals as well. The complex will enable elementary and secondary students to see and contrast the impact and extent of scientific progress as they move from early-science `instrument' observations to adjacent modern-science investigations. The visual contrast will be as sharp as the contrast in capabilities.
Popular objects observable through the main and supporting telescopes include: