Warko Observatory celebrates 40 years

Hope Austin

The UMKC Physics and Astronomy department presented distinguished author and Emmy-winning astronomer Dr. David Levy Monday, Oct. 27as it commemorated Warkoczewski Public Observatory’s 40th anniversary. Levy presented his lecture “A Night Watchman’s Journey: My Adventures as a Comet Discoverer and Skywatcher” in the Miller Nichols Learning Center.

Before the lecture, students, faculty and members of the public were invited to observe a meteorite display as well as an astrophotography display.

Dr. Daniel McIntosh presented a brief history of the observatory.

Warko, which is pronounced VAR-ko, has two telescopes that sit atop Royall Hall. The older telescope was handcrafted by Stanley Warkoczewski as a gift for his wife, Helen, who shared his passion for astronomy. In 1964, the Warkoczewskis donated the telescope to UMKC. However, it was ten years before it found a suitable location on campus.

“The Warko Observatory,” said Arts and Sciences Associate Dean Kati Toivanen, “is one of the many treasures on campus that truly makes UMKC Kansas City’s University.”

Dr. Mark Brodwin presented the newest addition to the Warko Observatory, a 14-inch telescope with a computer-controlled guidance system. The guidance system allows students to simply type in the coordinates of what they want to see.

Brodwin then presented Joe Wright, Warko operations manager, with a plaque commemorating his contributions to the observatory, most notably his public outreach efforts.

Levy introduced himself and stressed that he was not interested in strictly talking about science.

“I do not come to you tonight as a scientist,” said Levy. “Not even as a poet, but as someone who tries to find relationships between different fields of endeavor: between the night sky and English poetry, between rocks and minerals and music, for example—and in tonight’s case, between comets and poetry.”

During his lecture, Levy announced that he plans to give the entirety of his recorded observing to the Linda Hall Library.

“One day I’m not going to be here anymore … but when that happens, I would love the Linda Hall Library here in Kansas City to have my observing logs, all 15 books—so far,” Levy said.

Levy’s sessions date back to 1959. He currently has more than 17,000 sessions and counting.

“I want you to leave with the idea that it’s fun to go out and look up at the night sky. Just look up, and see what there is. It’s an incredible thing to do,” Levy said.

At the end of his lecture, Levy stressed the importance of just taking some time to look up at the night sky.

“Take a look at the moon,” Levy said. “You don’t have to know anything about it. You don’t have to be an astronomer; you don’t have to be anything. But I do ask of you to just take a look at the moon, see what’s there, and dream a little bit, as a nation did when we sent people to the moon and we could do it again.”

Due to a cloudy night sky, the observation following the lecture was canceled. However, that did not stop participants from enjoying celebratory cake in the observatory.

The Warko Observatory is open to the public on clear Friday nights during six months of the year. Check the observatory’s Twitter feed @WarkoSky for status updates.