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Lights on for Dark Sky Observatory

By Adam Orr (

Article Published: Apr. 18, 2013 | Modified: Apr. 18, 2013
Lights on for Dark Sky Observatory

Appalachian State University dedicated the Jo and Don Cline Visitor’s Center at ASU’s Dark Sky Observatory on April 13.

Photo by Adam Orr

The night sky recently got a whole light brighter for guests and visitors, as Appalachian State University dedicated the Jo and Don Cline Visitor Center at ASU’s Dark Sky Observatory.

The observatory upgrade has been underway for nearly two decades.

“(The Dark Sky Observatory) is a great opportunity to get young people, sixth- and seventh-graders, exposed to science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),” said Don Cline, the center’s benefactor, during the April 13 dedication. “My memory isn’t as sharp to know whether we started this 15 or 17 years ago, but I just want to thank everybody that stayed with us.”

The DSO facility was established in 1981 and is now equipped with multiple telescopes that ASU faculty and students can use to conduct observational research in astrophysics, according to information from the observatory.

The facility is located off the Blue Ridge Parkway, about 20 miles northeast of Boone and at more than 3,300 feet in elevation. More importantly, the DSO is far from major cities — a feature important to the work performed there.

“(The) dark skies provide a good setting for digital imaging and spectroscopy done in stellar and solar system research projects,” observatory director Daniel Caton said.

Although the DSO began operations more than three decades ago, equipment has expanded over the years to now include four telescopes and a radio astronomy telescope. The addition of the visitor center adds a way to introduce people to the kinds of astronomical research and the instrumentation used in work conducted at the DSO.

The facility gives guests an up-close look into the observatory’s control room that is used by faculty and staff to direct the facility’s telescope and to view display images acquired through its optics and high-resolution camera.

“A large public area will allow display space for public and group nights, as well as a place for introductory lectures at student sessions,” according to information from the observatory. “The control room will provide a comfortable place for astronomers and their students to work as observations are underway.”

During monthly public viewing nights, guests will also be able to walk through a connector hall to look at celestial objects including planets, galaxies and the moon using the facility’s 32-inch telescope.

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