Photo of a galaxy
The new telescope and observatory will open up research opportunities for CMU students and show new galaxies to D51 students.


Bringing galaxies to the Grand Valley

Colorado Mesa, the U.S. Air Force and a local property owner are joining forces to bring the stars a little closer to the Grand Valley.

“We will have one of the better, research-grade telescopes in Colorado, period,” said Associate Professor of Physics Jared Workman.

The telescope is part of a larger project that has been in the works since before Workman came to CMU six and a half years ago. 

Through a U.S. Air Force Academy program called Falcon Telescope Network, the air force will supply a telescope to a partnering institution if the institution provides the building and infrastructure.

One of the larger challenges of this project was finding the right location for the observatory, which would house the state-of-the-art telescope. The location needed to be free of certain outside factors that would limit the telescope’s effectiveness. The landowner would also have to be accepting of a 20-plus-year easement and government paperwork.

After conducting many site reviews, Workman connected with Grand Valley native John Mansur, who helped establish The Grand Mesa Observatory. That meeting would ultimately lead to finding the perfect location.

Mansur offered space next to The Grand Mesa Observatory, which houses six telescopes and a 50’ by 50’ pad with electrical outlets. CMU’s Board of Trustees approved the contract to construct the observatory and rent the land from Mansur earlier this month.

“The reason I’m excited about doing this is because I can get students with algebra and calculus involved,” Workman said. “And open research possibilities up to students that don’t require you to be a physics senior. Ultimately, it’s a tool to promote STEM disciplines to people.”

In addition to new opportunities for CMU undergraduates, Workman wants to make data collected from the telescope available to Mesa County D51 teachers through free software.

“So they can show students how astronomy is done in the twenty-first century.” He said he hopes Mesa County Valley School District 51 students will become interested especially when they see a huge galaxy with additional galaxies orbiting it. Images they would not normally be able to see with a regular telescope.

CMU and District 51 students are not the only ones who will benefit from having a $250,000 observatory less than an hour away on the Grand Mesa. Community members will benefit too. Currently, community members may rent one of The Grand Mesa Observatory’s telescopes or use the pad, but once the new telescope and observatory are complete, Workman along with Mansur plan to host monthly observing sessions, which will be open to anyone.

The new telescope and observatory should be ready next fall.

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