Senator visits observatory |

Senator visits observatory

by Teri Vance, Appeal Staff Writer

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., had a hard time staying down to earth during a visit to Carson City on Tuesday.

“Looking to the stars is where the beginning is,” he told to a group of staff members and guests gathered at Western Nevada Community College’s Jack C. Davis Observatory. “It’s almost difficult to put into the words the possibilities.”

As part of a tour through the area, Ensign stopped by to check the progress of the observatory, which is set to open May 15 for a first-light ceremony during a full lunar eclipse.

Physics and astronomy professor Robert Collier explained some of the capabilities of the observatory’s telescopes, which will be hooked to computers within the classroom.

“We’re going to be able to see some robust astrographs of some beautiful star systems and nebulas,” he said. “If I’m teaching a class and I want to see Saturn, I should be able to touch a button and have Saturn right here on the screen.”

The idea first took shape in January 2000 with a $100,000 donation from the Nevada Gaming Association for Educational Excellence.

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A 2001 visit from astronaut Buzz Aldrin increased support for the project. Then Ensign authored an appropriations bill in the U.S. Senate that gave the observatory an additional $300,000.

“How amazing that he would remember his roots and this small little community college,” said Helaine Jesse, vice president of institutional advancement for the college. “It’s the newest technology available. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.”

It has since grown into a 2,800 square-foot, million-dollar facility with five telescopes, including one to track the movements of the sun.

Jack Davis, the college’s first president and namesake of the observatory, is impressed with the support for the facility.

“This has really been done by a community of people, not one person or a small group,” he said. “It’s magnificent.”

And it’s in the perfect location, nestled in the hills behind the college.

“It really fits the area,” Davis said. “It just sits here beautifully.”

Classes are expected to begin in the observatory for the summer session.