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Domes installed at UNG's new observatory

June 12, 2020

Sounds of construction reverberated through the air as the domes for the North Georgia Astronomical Observatory at the University of North Georgia (UNG) were lifted and placed atop the newly built facility.

"This is a major milestone because the facility looks and feels like a professional observatory," said Adam Strzemienski, assistant director of facilities for capital planning and sustainability. "This building will accomplish the instructional, research and community education goals of the project."

UNG proposed replacing the aging observatory with a state-of-the-art facility. In January 2019, the University System of Georgia (USG) approved the $1.4 million plan, which UNG funded. Ten months later, the 20-year-old facility was demolished and construction began on the single-level 3,200-square-foot building.

"We rebuilt on the same location, because it is the best spot," Strzemienski said. "It's on elevated terrain and miles away from the biggest source of light nearby, which is the city of Dahlonega."

On May 18, the observatory's domes that will house two telescopes arrived. They were assembled during the week and installed May 22, which indicated construction is near an end.

"Now, it's more than 80% complete and crews get to work on the interior," Strzemienski said, adding the project is set to be complete in late July 2020. "They will paint the walls, move in the furniture and install equipment such as the internet network, fire alarms and light fixtures."

Two key pieces of equipment are the brand-new telescopes measuring at 24 and 28 inches across in the primary mirror diameter. Dr. Gregory Feiden, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at UNG, said the largest telescope will be situated on a 3-foot-by-3-foot pillar that is nearly 20 feet tall.

"It's a solid block of concrete," said Feiden, who visited the construction site a few times to see the progress as the observatory director. "The immensity of the new facility is really striking."

The observatory's main feature will be the two telescope rooms accompanied with multipurpose rooms for viewing. Strzemienski said the rooms will be handicapped-accessible.

"Even if you are in a wheelchair, you can go in the room with the dome and have a lift provide access to look into the telescope," he said.

Other features include a small classroom, two bathrooms, a kitchenette, work space, and storage space. Outside of the facility is improved parking, including a turnaround for school buses. Safety lighting will be stationed in the parking lot and around the building.

"As people enter the facility at night, the controlled light will be red," Strzemienski said. "This way people can see where they are walking, but no direct light will affect the telescopes and viewing the night sky."

He said UNG's ground management team is researching flowers that bloom at night and devising a plan for landscaping.

The new facility will provide students hands-on experience working in a professional-grade observatory with high-quality research equipment, Feiden said. But it will not be limited to their use.

The building will be open to the public on Friday nights following the free show in the George E. Coleman Sr. Planetarium. It is an aspect that sets UNG's observatory apart, making its completion highly anticipated by the public.

"It's surprising how much community support it has," Strzemienski said. "This little observatory is getting a lot of attention."

In fact, Good Day Atlanta on Fox 5 and WSB-TV on channel 2 in Atlanta featured segments about the observatory. Both are available online at https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/new-ung-observatory-nears-completion and https://www.wsbtv.com/video/?id=4915209.

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