Physics Photo of the Week

April 12, 2013

Messier 3 - First Light Image from College View Observatory
The College View Observatory achieved its First Light - a photograph of a deep sky object - on the night of April 10, 2013.  The telescope was very generously donated by Gary Starkweather, WWC class of 1977.  The observatory construction was started in August 2012 and has proceeded all fall and winter and reached a stage where the telescope could be installed last weekend. 

M3 is the third deep sky object listed in Messier's catalog published in the late 1700's.  It is a cluster of very many stars (about 500,000 stars!) located in the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy.  It is very distant, hence the stars are very faint, but they show up well in this time exposure photograph taken with a digital camera attached to the telescope.  There are so many stars in a globular cluster that the cluster is held together by mutual gravitational attraction.  In fact the mass and density of stars is so great in the center of this cluster that it is believed to harbor a large black hole.  These clusters are also the most distant objects (about 30,000 light years) yet still within the Milky Way Galaxy.  The stars in globular clusters are also very old - estimates range from 5 to 20 billion years - thus they are some of the oldest objects in the Universe.  The extreme age of globular clusters is determined from the large number of highly evolved red-giant stars - stars that have spent all their hydrogen fuel and have evolved into large Helium fusing red giants.  Notice the large number of reddish stars in the photograph representing the brighter stars.  The color has been highly enhanced in the photo.

Many thanks to those people who have volunteered help with the construction, loaned tools and provided encouragement: Saman Pallewela, Vicki Collins, Ray Stock, Allen Proctor, Paul Magnarella, George LeRoy, Joe Young, Michael Collins, Rocky Ward, Bernie Arghiere, Bill Mosher, Ian Pomeroy, Chris Pomeroy, David Coffey, Dean Kahl, Katrina Bugii, Tom Showalter, Michael Castelaz, Doug Bradley.  At right is the photo of the Starkweather 14 inch telescope being installed.

See photo albums of the construction progress of College View Observatory at its photoshare page.

Physics Photo of the Week is published weekly during the academic year on Fridays by the Warren Wilson College Physics Department. These photos feature interesting phenomena in the world around us.  Students, faculty, and others are invited to submit digital (or film) photographs for publication and explanation. Atmospheric phenomena are especially welcome. Please send any photos to

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