University Lowbrow Astronomers

A Night at EMU’s Sherzer Observatory.

by Doug Scobel
Printed in Reflections: April, 2006.

On the evening of January 26, 2006, a handful of hardy Lowbrows answered Norbert (“Norb”) Vance’s invitation and visited Sherzer Observatory on Eastern Michigan University’s campus. Yours truly was joined by Mark Deprest, Nathan Murphy, and Tom Ryan.

When I arrived, Norb gave me a personal tour of the astronomy rooms and the observatory. Lots of scopes, computers, and other equipment, with the ten inch Astrophysics APO refractor, on a massive Byers mount, all in a huge dome, being the centerpiece. You would never guess that the building had burned almost to the ground in 1989. They matched the old architecture very well, preserving the character of the original building, but without sacrificing modern conveniences, such as an elevator.

Next was the regular EMU astronomy club meeting, which Norb started by giving an excellent talk about Saturn, which would reach opposition the next day. Next was an entertaining liquid nitrogen demonstration, during which he froze a number of objects ranging from a transistor radio to a Twinkie. I was impressed and surprised by the number of students that attended—puts our meetings to shame.

By now it had gotten dark enough and Saturn had risen high enough, so out we all went to observe. The dome was packed with people eager to look through the big scope, so we Lowbrows went to the roof. Besides, it was not even 9:00 pm, so we knew that the views through the big APO would be better later. They had a number of six and eight inch Dobs and small refractors set up. We commandeered a few of them (hey, who’s open house is this, anyway?) to show some folks some bright objects, such as Mars, Saturn, M35 or the Double Cluster. I amazed everyone by finding the Eskimo nebula, but that was only because I knew right where to find it after observing it the previous Saturday at Peach Mountain.

After most folks had gotten their fill of the night sky (or cold toes) and went home, we finally moved into the dome. Wow! What views! Saturn was crisp, the ringed world displaying beautiful structure in its rings and delicate banding across its disk. We also looked at the Trapezium area in M42, the great nebula in Orion, at both high and low magnifications. There was so much detail, in particular the myriad tiny stars throughout the nebula, that it defies description. Those are the kinds of views that only a large refractor can deliver!

Speaking for myself and for the rest of the Lowbrows in attendance, here’s a big Thank You Norb for your hospitality, and to congratulate you on assembling a first-class astronomy facility at EMU. You have a right to be proud of what you have there. As for the rest of you Lowbrows who were not there, you owe it to yourself to get over to Sherzer Observatory the next clear Thursday night—you won’t be disappointed!

For more information on Sherzer Observatory, visit

Hours and Events at Sherzer Observatory

The observatory is open on clear Thursday evenings from September through April (academic year) following Astronomy Club meetings, and at select times during spring/summer terms (May through August). The observatory is operated by Physics & Astronomy staff and student volunteers from the EMU Astronomy Club. The club meets on Thursday evenings at the observatory in Room 402 Sherzer. Call (734) 487-3033 or check the club web page ( for an update of open houses and general public observing hours. Group tours can be arranged by contacting Mr. Norbert Vance in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at (734) 487-4146.

Norb Vance has lots of toys to play with!

Norb with 10 inch f/14 AstroPhysics Apochromatic refractor!

An arsenal of Dobs, SCTs, and other optics for public star parties!

A fully equipped “AstroLab” with a Planetarium Projector and minidome.

A beautifully restored 6 meter dome to house a rock-solid modified Byers equatorial mount.

Sherzer Observatory and Auroras

Photo Credits


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