By Sarah Griffin
THATCHER — Eastern Arizona College’s Discovery Park Campus hosted its annual “Docent Appreciation Dinner” last week with almost 80 in attendance. The dinner was held to commend the community volunteers who provide educational visits to the telescopes at the Mt. Graham International Observatory and meet with the administrators and operators of the three world-leading telescopes.
The first of three guest speakers, Father Paul Gabor S.J., director of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), shared information about the Vatican’s history in astronomy and how the VATT telescope fared with the recent Frye Fire. He also discussed recent equipment upgrades and future projects.
Eric Buckley, Director of the Mt. Graham International Observatory, discussed in detail the impact of the Frye Fire to the observatories as well as the continuing road and access problems associated with the loss of vegetation and erosion after rains.
Buell Jannuzi, A.B., Ph.D., University of Arizona Astronomy department head and director of UA Steward Observatory, spoke on the history of UA’s astronomy program beginning with a simple 4” refracting telescope in the early 1900s, to operating the current era of “giant telescopes” including the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), the Large Synaptic Survey Telescope (LSST), and soon the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT).
The dinner event celebrated the service of almost 40 volunteer “docents” who drive visitors from all over the world to the top of Mt. Graham and provide detailed guided tours of the world-leading telescopes. A group of about 20 local individuals was also honored for their service as “Sky-Spotters” in conjunction with the Large Binocular Telescope and the ARGOS Laser Project. These individuals participate on occasion as safety observers to watch for incoming aircraft when the powerful lasers are in operation to improve the “adaptive optics” of the Large Binocular Telescope that will allow imaging up to 10 times greater than the Hubble Telescope.
“The EAC Discovery Park Campus values the partnerships, and more importantly, the friendships that have been formed with the University of Arizona, the great staff of the Large Binocular Telescope, the Submillimeter Radio Telescope, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope, and the crews of the Mt. Graham International Observatory,” said Paul Anger, Director of Discovery Park Campus. “Each year hundreds of visitors from all over the world visit Safford and Graham County to observe these wonders of the technical and astronomical world.”
The educational visits to the telescopes at the Mt. Graham International Observatory will resume in May 2018 and continue through October 2018, depending on weather and road conditions. Reservations are currently being taken and available slots are filling up quickly, so those interested are advised to make reservations at least three months in advance. For more information, go to the Eastern Arizona College website, hover over “About EAC”, and click on “Discovery Park Campus.”
If you are interested in serving as a volunteer docent for the educational visits to the MGIO telescopes or working as a “Sky Spotter” during the scheduled LBT/Argos laser projects contact the EAC Discovery Park Campus at (928) 428-6260 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.