Three telescopes were recently donated to College of Marin’s (COM) Astronomy Department, gifts that will directly benefit students during their course of study once instruction returns to in-person learning.
COM received a 12.5-inch, a 14-inch, and a 16-inch telescope from retired faculty members Tinka Ross and Bernd Enders, and from a local community member who wished to remain anonymous. Both Ross and Enders worked in the Physics Department and said they wanted to give back to COM after long and rewarding careers at the College.
“I wanted to find a good home for the telescope in recent years because it just got too heavy for me to move around due to some back problems. The College seemed like a perfect choice,” said Enders, who also worked in the Physics Department and taught math and computer science during his career at COM. “All of us in the Physics and Astronomy Departments believed in the value of direct, personal experience with the objects of our study.”
The 12.5-inch telescope had previously been used in Astronomy 101 classes while Enders was teaching the courses.
“It seemed perfectly natural for the telescope to continue its life at the College,” he said of the telescope he built while he was in high school.
Students taking astronomy at COM will learn about how stars form, the life cycle of stars and planets, and will observe the universe. These courses prepare students for transfer to a four-year university and a career as an astronomer or astrophysicist, astronomy or physics instructor, director of a planetarium or other science museums, an observatory staff member, and more.
“Astronomy is an observational science and there is an intrinsic beauty in using these instruments to discover the sky above,” said physics and astronomy instructor, Dr. Antonino Cucchiara. “For many students, this is their first time using a telescope. Their priceless reactions during these experiences is what makes teaching astronomy so gratifying.”
Ross said that students wishing to pursue a career in astronomy can get a great start at COM.
“COM has always had a strong Astronomy focus in their Physics Department with an emphasis on observation,” she said. “I’m grateful someone like Dr. Cucchiara is there to help run things now.”
Ross, who taught astronomy at COM from 1980 to 2000, is still actively encouraging public stargazing. She established the Mt. Tamalpais Astronomy Program for Mt. Tamalpais State Park in 1989. The Astronomy program offers free monthly events April through October with professional speakers on astronomy and space science at the Mountain Theater followed by telescope viewings in the Rock Spring Parking Lot with a local amateur astronomer. Mt. Tamalpais is currently closed to large group events due to the pandemic. The 2020 and 2021 seasons are online.
An anonymous donor gave a telescope to Ross to find a good home for it. She donated it along with an additional telescope through the Mt. Tamalpais Astronomy Program. She said she has the utmost faith in the department and believes COM offers a top-notch education for a student who wishes to pursue an education in astronomy.
“[Cucchiara] is fabulous and I wish him a lot of luck,” Ross said. “He is really involved and wants the program to be a part of the community. He’s hoping to develop a planetarium with his students for them to use, as well as for his students to take into the community and for younger students to experience.”
Cucchiara has taught astronomy and physics at COM since fall 2019.