The observatory features a 177-square-foot dome housing the primary telescope, an observation deck equipped with 12 piers for mounting smaller telescopes, and a single-story building with an insulated control room and restrooms.
Astronomical study and night sky viewing are open to the University community, local schools, and the public.
The observatory was named after former state Sen. Irwin Belk of Charlotte, North Carolina, for his support and contributions.
The Margaret G. L. Gilbert Telescope
The primary instrument at the Belk Observatory is an RC Optical Systems 20-inch (.51-meter) Truss Ritchey-Chretien telescope, a powerful research-quality scope whose particular optical design is the same one used in every major telescope in use today, including the Hubble Space Telescope. More information on this specific design can be found on the RC Optical Systems website.
The Gilbert Telescope is equipped with a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera, allowing for exceptional astrophotography that can be used for research and teaching purposes.
The telescope is digitally linked to the University of Lynchburg’s campus, allowing faculty to conduct astronomical research in conjunction with other regional colleges and universities.
This setup provides the University with one of the best-equipped observatories in the state.
The observatory also houses six Celestron CPC 800 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes for use in the roll-off roof observatory and observation deck.
Perfect for observing the moon and planets as well as deep space phenomena, these portable telescopes are the observatory’s primary teaching instruments.
Equipped with GPS technology and electronic digital compasses, the scopes are easy to set up and use. Additional features include Fastar-compatible optics that allow for 35 mm astrophotography and software that allows users to control the telescope remotely.
The observatory is proud to show you the night sky through one of our newest instruments, the StarGazer 13.1-inch Dobsonian telescope. The large aperture and field of view of this instrument offers stunning views of the deep night sky.
The observatory houses three Coronado Instruments Personal Solar Telescopes (PSTs). These small, lightweight, easy-to-use instruments allow for daytime observations.
Equipped with a 400 mm focal length, 40 mm aperture, f/10 refractor with an integrated full aperture hydrogen alpha solar filter, the PSTs will allow observers to see detailed views of the sun and specific surface prominences, including sunspots and solar flares.
Ten pairs of tripod-mounted Celestron Ultima 9 x 63 mm binoculars are available as teaching tools for wide-angle views of the night sky.
These binoculars allow students and astronomy enthusiasts to locate bright images of faint deep space objects that can then be viewed using one of the observatory’s telescopes.
Among the various phenomena easily seen in their 5-degree-wide field of view are the star clouds of Sagittarius, the spiral galaxy in the constellation Andromeda, and open star clusters of the Wild Duck and the Beehive.
We keep our programs small in order to foster learning and interaction. Program fees cover 1.5 hours of dedicated instruction from a Belk staff member, including viewing through telescopes when weather permits. The first half-hour of the program will be a topic-specific presentation and discussion, and the remainder will entail using the tools and equipment available at Belk to observe the night sky. Visibility is very dependent on weather, time of year, and moon phase. Most educational programs are scheduled during the winter months from November to March, after daylight saving time ends and before it begins again.
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For additional information on how you can support the observatory, please contact Michael Bonnette.