The Push for Future Space

Monday, May 13, 2013
Sherri Cruz
OC Register

Tammy Smecker-Hane, director of the UC Irvine Observatory and associate professor of astronomy, is leading the charge to build a new planetarium and observatory on about an acre nearby the university's present domed observatory.
The two-story building, approximately 2,000 square feet, would have features that the current site lacks such as bathrooms, a classroom, an observation deck, an outdoor amphitheater, an indoor classroom and a planetarium, according to preliminary drawings.
"We have a great K through 12 program, but what we're lacking is a planetarium," Smecker-Hane said.
The Department of Physics & Astronomy's community outreach program hosts regular classroom tours at the observatory. It also puts on visitor nights for the public about nine times a year, with an average attendance of about 400 people. The new space would accommodate more people.
The observation deck could serve as an area where additional telescopes could be set up for visitor nights. Currently, amateur astronomers set up telescopes around the perimeter of the observatory.
The outdoor amphitheater could serve dual purposes – seating for presentations on visitor nights and a venue for community music events, Smecker-Hane said. She also is eying a newer-model telescope.
The university plans to raise $1 million for the new observatory through private donations, including for the naming rights of the facility.
"I'm going to make it happen," Smecker-Hane said.
The UC Irvine motto is "Let there be light," and she'd like to see that posted on either side of the observatory doors.
The new location is still being decided. An opening date hasn't been set. UCI's current observatory location on 1.5 acres is unsuitable because new faculty housing is expected to be built right up to the dome.
The new planetarium and observatory site will need at least an acre to be isolated from the lights of buildings and housing.