ONEONTA _ Stargazers will have a chance to look billions of light years into ``deep space,'' when SUNY Oneonta unveils its new telescope Friday night, a college dean said Tuesday.
At a ``first light'' ceremony at 8:30 p.m., faculty and staff will show the largest optical telescope in the state, said Michael Merilan, dean of science and social science at the State University College at Oneonta.
For astronomy and astrophysics studies, a telescope is a critical piece of equipment, he said, and the acquisition is significant for SUNY Oneonta.
``It really represents a pivotal moment,'' said Merilan, observatory director at the college.
The college also has a 16-inch telescope and hosts regular public viewing sessions, generally on designated Wednesdays twice a month during the fall and spring terms, Merilan said.
With the new telescope, Merilan said, SUNY Oneonta and the University of Toledo are tied in having the largest optical telescope east of the Mississippi River open for regular public viewing sessions.
The event at the SUNY Oneonta College Observatory at the College Camp will begin at 8:30 p.m. Friday with remarks by Nancy Kleniewski, president of the State University College at Oneonta, F. Daniel Larkin, provost, Sunil Labroo, physics and astronomy department chairman, and Merilan.
The telescope will be unveiled at 8:50 p.m., and it will be available for observations of the sky from 9 to 11 p.m. The public is invited, and admission is free. In the event of inclement weather, the observation will be available Saturday or Sunday at the same times.
The college will also offer a free showing of its digital planetarium in room 19B of Science Building 1 on campus at 5:30, 6 and 6:30 p.m., for up to 28 visitors in each session.
The 40-inch telescope collects more than 1.5 times more light than New York's previous collegiate record holders _ a 32.25-inch telescope at Alfred University and a 32-inch telescope at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, according to a pamphlet about the equipment.
SUNY Oneonta's new telescope has the light-gathering power of more than 20,000 human eyes and reveals celestial targets more than six times fainter than previously detectable with the college's 16-inch telescope.
The telescope, constructed by JMI Telescopes of Lakewood, Colo., is computer controlled. The JMI website quotes the cost of the telescope at $159,000.
Merilan said SUNY Oneonta acquired the telescope in 2006 for less than $150,00. Plans for the observatory have been in the works for about a decade, he said, and the telescope was purchased before the recession. A shelter built for the telescope was finished last fall.
Three to five years ago, competitors estimated costs for such telescopes at between $750,000 and $1.2 million, Merilan said. The JMI telescope was cost-effective because of optical and mounting design, he said.
The telescope acquisition dovetails with SUNY Oneonta's ongoing Fund for Science and Technology focus to raise money and enhance facilities and programs, Merilan said.
"The college's students, faculty, staff and the community will be able to study the sky with unprecedented clarity and precision, as well as observe objects previously unreachable with our equipment," Merilan said in a prepared statement.
Invitations for the first-light event have been sent to college and professional observatories statewide, Merilan said.
At SUNY Oneonta, between six and 12 students at any given time are enrolled in a physics major with a track in astronomy or astrophysics, Merilan said, and a few hundred take general education astronomy courses.
More information about the events, the telescope and the planetarium is available from Merilan at 436-2125.
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