Atlanta’s recent downpours have made people curse the weather, cancel plans, and reschedule events. On a clear night, however, taking the time to revel in the sublimity of the skies might make one appreciate them a little more. The recently renamed Dr. Ralph L. Buice, Jr. Observatory at the Fernbank Science Center houses the largest telescope in the Southeast and hosts free public observations every Thursday and Friday nights. Viewing nights attract adults and children interested in astronomy or those who simply want to experience and observe planetary bodies that are light years away and invisible to the naked eye.
After the Dekalb County School District cut the Science Center’s budget by forty percent last year, the Observatory kept afloat by bringing in interns during the months the astronomers have off—a fortunate alternative to an unfortunate situation, as it provides students the opportunity to work in their fields. On the mid-July evening I visited the Observatory, I waited in line behind over a dozen people to view Saturn—which, through the lens appeared to be a tiny gray sphere with rings, a real-life version of the colorful image ubiquitous in grade school textbooks. The moon, because of its proximity to Earth, is hyperreal due to its glow, massive size, and distinct cratered surface. A glimpse into the telescope confirms the existence of those celestial mysteries that seem too amazing to be true and merits several return trips to the observatory to see what else the universe has to offer.
Just minutes away from Fernbank Science Center, Agnes Scott’s Bradley Observatory stands as a watchtower over the campus. The dome atop the observatory houses the Beck Telescope, a 30-inch reflector made in 1930 and refurbished for installation in 1950. The building’s polygonal structure and the astrological symbols surrounding the dome add an element of design merging function and artistry.
The Metro-Atlanta Solar System (MASS), centered at Bradley Observatory may be the closest the city gets to space travel without leaving the earth. Created in 2009 in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy, MASS is an interactive and educational exhibition designed to help people better understand the size and scale of the solar system. At a scale of one to 150 million based on size and mean distance from the sun, the project uses landmarks in the Metro Atlanta area to represent the sun and the eight surrounding planets.
The plaza located at Bradley Observatory symbolizes the sun; from there, the solar system radiates out to locations including the physics building at Emory University (Jupiter), the Hartsfield-Jackson airport (Uranus), and Sweetwater Creek State Park (Neptune). Despite the observatory’s presence as a teaching and research facility—it hosts a free open house lecture series during the academic year and also contains the Delafield Planetarium—and MASS’s role as an instructive tool, the two also function as artworks with scopes that extend throughout the Metro Atlanta population and into space.
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