ISU freshman works to re-open Hook Observatory

December 16 2008

Alex Steiner wants to bring the heavens a little closer to earth, and the people of Vigo County.

"If you've never sat and looked through a telescope, you really need to. To see things that are billions of years old is breathtaking," said Steiner, freshman geology major at Indiana State University.

Steiner was named the student director of the John C. Hook Memorial Observatory earlier this year. Steiner, a Terre Haute native, has been interested in astronomy and other science-related subjects since he was 3 years old.

"It has always been a part of my life," said Steiner. "It is a hobby of my dad's; I learned a lot from him."

On clear nights, Steiner's father would take him outside to look through their telescope.

"Halley's comet and Hale-Bopp are the two I recall right away. They were awesome," said Steiner.

Each year, the geology department looks for students who are interested in astronomy and know a bit about telescopes to be the student directors, according to Sandra Brake, ISU professor of geology. With a full schedule of classes, Steiner still finds the time to work 15 hours a week at the observatory.

As director, Steiner is in charge of organizing events, and operating and maintaining the six telescopes along with the observatory itself.

"I learned how to build and fix telescopes by reading books and by experimentation," he said. "One day, I'd like to build a large telescope of my own."

With the re-opening of the Hook Observatory, Steiner spent most of his free time in preparations to make sure everything was perfect and ready for the re-opening in December.

Brake said Steiner played a big role in the re-opening of the observatory.

"Alex was a major contributor to all aspects of the re-opening," said Brake. "He worked together with John Swez, professor emeritus of physics, to catalog the equipment, get the telescopes in working order, paint the interior and exterior of the dome, and prepare advertisements for the re-opening."

Although Steiner is only a freshman, "he is quite knowledgeable in the area of astronomy, and even owns his own Meade telescope. I really enjoyed working with him," Swez said.

Swez, who will be teaching a beginners course on astronomy in the spring, said people today are more excited about this subject due to things such as the reports of the international space station in the news.

"Next semester I look forward to sharing my own enthusiasm for astronomy with my students," said Swez. "Although I was trained in physics and biophysics, I, too, have a passion for astronomy."

Upon graduation, Steiner hopes to attend graduate school to study volcanology or astronomy.

The Hook Observatory is open every Tuesday and Friday night from 8 to 10 p.m., if the weather permits. For more information, contact Steiner at rsteiner2@mymail.indstate.edu.

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Contact: Alex Steiner, Indiana State University, Hook Observatory student director, at rsteiner2@mymail.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Spector, Indiana State University, media relations intern, at jspector@mymail.indstate.edu or 812-237-3773

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/430821830_5ztk2-D.jpg

Cutline: Alex Steiner, Hook Observatory student director, peers through a telescope.

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Story Highlights

Alex Steiner was named the student director of the John C. Hook Memorial Observatory earlier this year.

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