Highland Road Park Observatory Celebrates 20 Years of “Bringing Astronomy to the People”
This year the Highland Road Park Observatory (HRPO) celebrates its 20th anniversary of “brining astronomy to the people.” The Highland Road Park Observatory is brought to the public by BREC, Louisiana State University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Baton Rouge Astronomical Society and held its first public night in the Fall of 1997. The observatory houses a state-of-the-art 20-inch reflecting telescope, which has been used to discover more than 40 asteroids, and an accessible 16-inch reflecting telescope.
The idea to bring a public telescope to East Baton Rouge Parish came from a phone call between LSU astrophysicist Greg Guzik and Melanie Hair. Melanie was a member of BRAS, which was founded by Craig Brenden and Wally Pursell in 1981. The Department of Physics and Astronomy at LSU secured the funding for a 50cm (20in) professional-grade reflector from the Optical Guidance Systems company. Greg ultimately became, and remains, HRPO’s official LSU liaison. BREC (under then-Superintendent Eugene Young) agreed to provided grounds, a building, staff and an operating budget.
BRAS members (mainly Walt Cooney) have used the OGS reflector to discover over three dozen asteroids, the first of which was named after HRPO’s home city of Baton Rouge. More of the asteroids have been named for Greg, Craig, Wally and BRAS members Frank Conrad and Merrill Hess.
HRPO’s Science Academy is an informal program for children ages 8-12 and focuses on astronomy, physics, the American space program, geology, meteorology, chemistry, mathematics and the history of such. It has existed at HRPO in one form or another since at least the fall of 2001. At this time there are over 80 active Cadets.
The Friday Night Lecture Series began as a campfire program for families and has since morphed into an indoor presentation for a general adult audience. The quarterly “Wonders of the Sky” talks give active local skygazers a preview of the upcoming Baton Rouge night sky; this talk is traditionally given by HRPO’s Education Curator. For over 12 consecutive years P&A professor Brad Schaefer has thrilled audiences with the “Star of Bethlehem” talk in December. “Buying Your First Telescope” and "Skygazing Binoculars" are presented near the end of the year.
HRPO is open annually for the peaks of the Perseid and Geminid meteor showers. Other annual events include NanoDays, the fall and spring Edge of Night (which premiered in 2016), American Radio Relay League Field Day and the Spooky Spectrum. Easily the most well-attended manufactured event of the calendar year is the annual International Astronomy Day. IAD set a new record for itself in 2016 with over 1100 patrons in attendance.
Probably the two most well-attended celestial events in HRPO history were the close approach of Mars in August 2003 and the Transit of Venus in June 2012.
The three equal and autonomous partners—BREC, LSU and BRAS—have brought HRPO to the public for 20 years and we have faith that HRPO will continue for another 20.
For more information on HRPO and the upcoming anniversary events, visit hrpo.lsu.edu, call 225-768-9948 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.