Naperville’s Very Own Night-Sky Observatories

Two small white buildings sit tucked away near the DuPage River. One of which has a dome that might remind you of a night-sky observatory – and that would be because it is one.

It’s the Glen D. Riley Observatory – named for the Naperville science teacher who inspired kids to found the astronomy club that in 1973 would become the Naperville Astronomical Association.

“What we have in here is a 16-inch reflector, a very large reflector telescope, that we use for public viewing,” said Tony Armalis, program chair of the Naperville Astronomical Association.

The dome observatory and hand-built 16-inch telescope make up just one part of the Astronomy Education Center – the pride and joy of the NAA.

“Deep sky objects are what we can see here: nebula, star clusters, things like that,” said Armalis. “We also get very good views of planets for nights when it’s maybe a little cloudy.”

“Our objective is to bring astronomy to the people and not necessarily bring the people out to astronomy per se. So I think the facilities here in Naperville really help with that,” said NAA President John Lehuta.

The Astronomy Education Center has smaller, deployable telescopes at the ready, as well as two concrete triangles in the grass and a wooden deck to give stargazers level surfaces to set up their telescopes.

There’s a diagram of our solar system and a map of the Milky Way Galaxy. The club even has a library on-site with all sorts of astronomical books available to members.

And there’s a rolling-roof building – the DuPage Valley Observatory that houses another big telescope.

“It is actually a giant camera called an astrograph. It’s got a 12.5-inch mirror and a mini-camera on the front, so whatever light is collected by this telescope is sent by a camera back to where we have a monitor,” explained Jim Hopkins, former president of the NAA.

The club makes the astronomical education center available to the public on fun nights known as star parties.

“A star party is our way of sharing the night sky with the public as we like to call anyone who’s interested in coming,” said Lehuta. “And we get to show them whatever’s up at the time, whether that be planets, galaxies such as in the background here, star clusters, planetary nebula, all the visible things you can see with astronomy.”

“It’s kind of stunning to be able to see something on the monitor through this apparatus that might be 100,000 times dimmer than what you can see with your eyes or sometimes even darker than that,” said Hopkins.

You can check the Naperville Astronomical Association’s website for dates of public nights at the observatories.

A club pointing Naperville’s eyes to the night skies.

Naperville News 17’s Blane Erwin reports.

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