Sam Ott 2013, great-great nephew
of Dr. Charles S. Morris 1913
Don’t you think Manchester’s first observatory looked a little like R2D2
from Star Wars? Three friendly
people could squeeze inside.
Morris Observatory was dedicated during Homecoming 1974. That’s
lab in the background and
College President Blair
at the podium.
(Return to small thumbnail and
click on it for enlargement.)
Dr. Charles S. Morris ’13 pushed his students to succeed in the lab.
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click on it for enlargement)
Erected in 1974 by the Manchester maintenance crew led by Vern
Mitmoen, Morris Observatory was
level within an eighth of an inch when capped by the retractable dome.
Dr. Christer Watson, associate professor of physics, teaches TJ Stafford ’11
how to use the computerized controls
for the Morris Observatory telescope.
TUCKED AWAY IN MANCHESTER COLLEGE’S northeast corner is its connection to the universe, opening the heavens to students, classes of area school children, neighbors and even Japanese tourists. One starry night, 500 visitors lined up for hours to gaze at Mars.
Astronomy at Manchester dates back to 1901, when physics Professor L.D. Ikenberry taught the first college-level course. But students weren’t able to see for themselves until 1950, when Eldon Krieg suggested a unique tuition payment plan for his daughter.
A South Whitley machinist, amateur astronomer Krieg had all the tools he needed to construct a small metal observatory in his back yard. Krieg was of modest means. Donna Krieg ’53x Cross enrolled in 1949, her tuition deferred in exchange for the observatory, after enthusiastic lobbying of President Vernon Schwalm ‘13 by Dr. Charles S. Morris ’13, then a professor emeritus of physics.
On May 22, 1950, the telescope and its small metal dome that resembled R2D2 of Star Wars fame brought the universe a little closer to North Manchester. Krieg Observatory was immediately put to use with a summer astronomy course taught by Dr. Morris.
Three students could squeeze into the dome, the telescope rotating with the help of two old Ford car wheels. (It stood on the north end of the College Mall, where Cordier Auditorium is now.) Summers made the metal dome blisteringly hot and winters turned it into a freezer, recalls Dr. Dwight B. Beery ’59, professor emeritus of physics.
A new plan to advance Manchester’s Physics Department surfaced in 1971. With student help and drawings, Dr. Beery, then an assistant professor, sat alongside his former professor and mentor Dr. Morris (by then retired after 36 years of teaching) to plan and engineer a larger observatory.
Manchester didn’t have to look far to contract a lead engineer and builder for the $25,000 project: Vern Mitmoen, College director of maintenance. Under the summer sun of 1973, Mitmoen and his crew meticulously placed the brick for the two-part structure. Part One would consist of a lab area for student study, a darkroom, a restroom and the main plumbing. Part Two would have a telescope cemented 6 feet into the ground and protected by a 14-foot tall automated dome.
When complete on Oct. 12, 1973, the capped motorized dome and telescope housing was level to within an eighth of an inch, adjacent to the athletic fields on the east edge of campus, directly in line with Krieg Observatory. Manchester students and their faculty mentors now had access to a 10-inch F6 Newtonian reflector telescope with an adjacent darkroom where they could enlarge their photographs of star constellations, passing comets caught just at the right time and other night skies.
On Nov. 30, 1973, Comet Kohoutek was first sighted at Morris Observatory. The first tour was the Wabash Valley Astronomical Society from Lafayette, Ind. (Ruth Black ’72 was their secretary). The next to visit was a group of third-graders, reports Dr. Beery’s log.
Dedication of the Charles S. Morris Observatory came exactly one year later. Dr. Malcolm Hults ’49, Dr. Dwight Farringer ’49 and Dr. Phillip Barnhart ’52 were on the program. Morris was recalled for his Distinguished Service as awarded by the General Brotherhood of the Church of the Brethren, which helped start physics departments at four other Church of the Brethren colleges. Speakers also remembered how Morris was so dedicated to teaching that he lectured from his hospital bed using a two-way intercom after suffering a heart attack.
Professor Charles S. Morris would not see his namesake observatory; he passed on April 12, 1973, just prior to the start of construction. His commitment to lifelong learning and a strong Physics Department continue to enrich Manchester College.
His great-great nephew, Sam Ott ’13, is a Manchester College religion major, proud of the observatory that carries his ancestor’s name. The observatory attracts 600 to 1,000 students and visitors yearly, according to the logs. “It allows us to have a broader, more-experiential and comprehensive physics program than most schools Manchester’s size,” Ott notes. Manchester is one of only six Indiana colleges with an observatory. All of the other schools are larger, and include Ball State, Indiana and Butler universities.
Students continue to appreciate the opportunity to discover for themselves. “My experience at the observatory was very exciting,” says physics major TJ Stafford ’11. “It’s something very different to see celestial objects than to hear about them. It’s something I recommend to all students.”
Morris’ apprentice, Dr. Beery, stepped into his mentor’s shoes. He taught every Manchester physics course at one point or another, after finishing his graduate work in low energy nuclear physics at Michigan State University. Dr. Beery was part of some major events in Morris Observatory history.
Even in retirement, Dr. Beery remains connected to the observatory. With his home directly behind it on Orchard Drive, he often treats family members and visitors to the starry skies. He also helped orchestrate the biggest event in Morris Observatory history: On Aug. 27, 2003, a total of 567 people visited campus to witness Mars at its closet orbit to Earth. The lines were so long, almost 300 of the hopeful left without seeing Mars. Beery estimates the line moved at a rate of one Mars sighting per minute.
“Mars was only closer by a few inches; it looked the same as it did every night,” Beery recalls matter-of-factly, with a reminiscent smile.
The College in 2002 updated the observatory with a donated 10-inch Meade F10 GPS LX200 computerized telescope that can automatically locate more than 145,000 celestial objects with the push of a button. And the lab now has an electron microscope that will magnify 180,000 times. The telescope was donated in memory of Bradford Adams ’90, who on Nov. 11, 1985 was the first to observe Halley’s Comet at Morris Observatory.
As nifty as the North Manchester equipment is, Dr. Christer Watson and his students have shared two of the most extraordinary telescopes in the world.
He recently completed research into star formations in galaxies with scientists from other universities, using NASA’s $733 million orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, the largest infrared telescope ever launched into space. Side-by-side with his students, he shared his digital use of the telescope. Dr. Watson and his students currently are studying how gas formations create new stars using data captured at the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission conducted with NASA infrared and analysis technology.
To fulfill their physical science requirements for graduation, many non-scientists find their place in Watson’s Descriptive Astronomy class. “He’s one professor I will always remember,” said William Kallas ’12, a political science and communication studies major who is quick to admit science is not his forte. “He made the subject come alive.”
That Descriptive Astronomy class is a favorite of Dr. Watson’s, too. “Each year, we have a debate to decide if Pluto is actually a planet and every year we get the same result,” the scientist says with a laugh.
“Apparently when students begin to think like astronomers, all of a sudden, Pluto no longer qualifies as a planet.”
BY CHAZ BELLMAN ’13
ON THE FIRST AND THIRD MONDAY of each month during the school year, a clear sky means free public sky gazing at Manchester College. Charles S. Morris Observatory also is available for area school classes, by appointment.
When a unique viewing opportunity presents itself, the observatory often opens to the public. May 10, 1994 was one of those special days, when the annular eclipse of the sun was videotaped for an audience of 50 that filled the inside and surrounded the observatory. The midday phenomenon lasted only 6 minutes.
Ensuring the best astronomical viewing, the 10-inch Meade F-10 telescope is mounted alone in the center of the rotating dome. In addition, the mount is cemented 6 feet underground to prevent ground tremors from disrupting the starry view.
A JANUARY SESSION and spring semester class offered most years, Descriptive Astronomy holds class often in the Charles S. Morris Observatory, particularly to give students a general understanding of the Milky Way. “Professor (Christer) Watson was the best part about the class,” says John McCall ’13. “I really appreciated the way he introduced evidence and had us read articles for context rather than just what the author had to say.”
As a 200-level class, Descriptive Astronomy often enrolls and challenges students who are not physics majors. Like McCall, who has yet to decide his major, students take Descriptive Astronomy as a core class intended to expand thought and challenge them to think inversely.
Present students will have to wait until fall 2012 for their next opportunity to enroll in Descriptive Astronomy. With Dr. Watson currently on a NASA research sabbatical, next year’s classes are sure to follow the “filled to capacity” trend, enriched by the teacher’s latest findings.
BY CHAZ BELLMAN ’13