CHESTER, Pa.– Dr. Harry Augensen, professor of physics and astronomy at Widener University, has been named the first director of the Widener Observatory, which is located on Widener’s Main Campus in Chester atop Kirkbride Hall. This appointment is made in recognition of Augensen’s dedication to astronomy education for both Widener students and the general public. He will oversee all functions of the Widener Observatory, including its outreach programs.
Augensen initiated public stargazing sessions in 2002 using portable telescopes until the Widener Observatory was completed in 2005. He now organizes viewings of the night sky using the observatory’s 16-inch computerized Meade Cassegrain reflecting telescope and several smaller 12-inch telescopes. Public sessions typically run the first Friday of every month and every Monday during the academic year. The first Friday viewing this year takes place Sept. 5, 8-9 p.m. The first Monday viewing is Sept. 8, 8-9 p.m. Find all of the dates for the year at www.widener.edu/stargazing.
“Our goal with these public sessions is to get people in touch with the sky and interested in learning more about what’s above them,” Augensen said. “Only a privileged few could use telescopes centuries ago when they were first invented. We are inviting everyone to view celestial wonders such as Saturn, Mars, and the Orion Nebula.”
In addition to public stargazing sessions, Augensen also takes requests for group sessions and has entertained students from the Widener Partnership Charter School, Cub Scouts and senior groups. He regularly organizes nights for area teachers through the secondary level. The next stargazing session for teachers takes place on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. with a rain date of Nov. 5.
As a fulltime professor of astronomy and physics, Augensen also uses the Widener Observatory as a second classroom for his students. He teaches a range of courses, including Introduction to Astronomy, Planet Earth and Meteorology.
Augensen’s research has most recently focused on variable stars. He regularly involves students in his research during annual trips to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. Widener is part of the National Undergraduate Research Observatory (NURO), a consortium of 13 institutions that share a 31-inch telescope at Lowell to collaborate on research projects, conduct private research and train students using the technology.
Augensen’s research has appeared in a range of academic journals, and he has published popular articles in Astronomy and Mercury magazines. His strong interest in astronomy education, especially for underprivileged students, led him to create the 81-page document “Astronomy Education and Instructional Aids,” which was distributed worldwide by the International Astronomical Union. He also worked with his Swarthmore College colleague, the late Wulff D. Heintz, to translate G. D. Roth’s “Compendium of Practical Astronomy” from German to English.
Augensen has taught at Widener since 1981 and has served as associate dean of science for many years and recently as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Elmhurst College and his doctorate in astronomy from Northwestern University.
For more information about the Widener Observatory or to make an appointment for an upcoming stargazing session, contact Terri Sminkey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-499-4003. To learn even more about the stars, planets and other celestial wonders, look for Augensen’s column “Night Words” in the Town Talk newspaper.