The Georgetown University Astronomical Society, housed in the Heyden Observatory, is the living legacy of the Jesuits’ mission to advance astronomy at Georgetown.

“The Astronomical Society connects the past of the school with our present because now we are in charge of preserving this building and this legacy every time we have a meeting,” club officer Nicholas Childress (COL ’14) said. “Our work to repair the observatory gives me a real sense of ownership with the school and its legacy as well as something to be passionate about that is unique to Georgetown.”

Physics faculty member Fr. James Curley, S.J., founded the observatory, a national historic landmark, in 1841, while Fr. John Hagen, S.J. was responsible for the installation of an equatorial telescope in 1888.

Because the telescope has been rendered obsolete by a crack in the dome of the scope, the Astronomical Society employs newer equipment to stargaze during weekly meetings.

“Our … meetings in the observatory include looking up and discussing astronomy news and relevant topics, along with breaking out the telescope to look at the moon and Mars if the weather is good,” Club President Matthew Oswald (COL ’14) said.

Though last year the group was largely inactive, Oswald, Childress and the club’s third officer Alexander Graham (COL ’14) have revitalized the society by creating a new programming schedule.

“At the beginning of the year, my friends and I were interested in joining, but the club was defunct. The leaders had all graduated, so we got into contact with a member, and decided to reregister and reinvigorate the club,” Oswald said.

This year’s activities have included a speaker from SpaceX, the company that recently announced the success of a new line of private rockets that could make space travel commonplace, and trips off campus.

“We also had a camping trip this semester to escape the light pollution of the city. I’m planning more programming next year too, possibly including a trip to the Naval Observatory,” Oswald said.

Since the astronomy department closed in 1972, resources directed at astronomy have waned. However, the new leadership is looking to repair some of the Observatory’s damaged equipment as part of its plan to breathe new life into the organization.

“Repair of the equipment, particularly the telescope, would be very expensive, so we are exploring fundraising outlets. Because of the high costs, though, it is a slow project,” Oswald said.

The leaders also hope to improve the organization’s visibility on campus.

“The society is currently working on ways to promote interest and involvement on campus. Sometimes it’s as easy as setting up a table and asking students, ‘Hey, have you ever wanted to go into the observatory?’” Graham said. “Once we can foster that kind of interest, it’s usually pretty easy to keep those first-time visitors coming back.”

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