Department of Physics and Astronomy
1906 College Heights Blvd, #11077
Bowling Green, KY 42101-1077
(270) 745-4357

Bell Observatory


The Bell Observatory

Bell Observatory Weather

Bell Observatory Pictures

Bell Observatory Staff

Bell Observatory History

Current Observing Plan

Helpful Links

AGN Observations and Light Curves

Hilltopper Astronomy Club

WKU Astronomy

The idea to build an observatory began in the mid-1970's.  The head of the Physics and Astronomy Department at Western Kentucky University was a radio astronomer that had a small radio research station at the foot of the hill where the current observatory is built.

The Thompson Complex was new and with it a smaller optical observatory was built on the roof.  It had a small 12.5-inch telescope, which was convenient for the introductory astronomy labs that the university offered.

During this time WKU was moving toward increased research activity.  The Physics department jumped on and proposed to build an observatory with a large research grade telescope.  This new observatory would have to be located off campus, away from growing Bowling Green light pollution.

Since the equipment costs were rapidly increasing, the department secured a 24-inch telescope from Group 128 with a true Cassegrain design as quickly as possible at a cost of $38,000.  The dome from Ash Dome for the observatory was purchased a year later at a price of $13,000.  To help pay for this expanding project, the University contributed come surplus heating funds, which supplemented the department and Ogden college contribution.

With the telescope and dome, all that was needed was somewhere to put them.  In 1976, Judge Executive Charles R. Bell donate approximately 4 acres of land to the University to provide a dark-sky location, allowing for full use of the telescope's capabilities.

Now that a dark site was secured, it came time to start housing the telescope and get it up to research ability.  The department received $20,000 in external donations to help with this process.  Between 1978 and 1980, the road to the site was constructed and utility lines were run.  During this time the actual architectural design was underway.  The original plan the architect submitted was for a two-story building with the space for a much-needed darkroom and classroom area, but the cost of this plan was conservatively estimated at $56,000.  The department had $12,000 remaining in the Foundation Fund after deducting costs for road materials and the architect, which was not enough to cover the cost of the building as originally planned. 

By 1985, the building plans were revised to construct just the dome, which would house the telescope and enable it to begin research.  This plan also included acquisition of a government-surplus mobile home for support facilities. 

By 1987 the first stage of construction of the new simpler observatory was complete and the telescope was installed. 

In 1999 the department start refurbishment the telescope with new astronomical equipment that including a CCD camera.  This process also included refitting the telescope so it would be able to be run from WKU's main campus with a program called ACEops.  To date, the observatory can be run remotely as well as take very sensitive data sets.  There are several major observing projects currently at Bell including: AGN monitoring, ESP transits, Wolf-Rayet monitoring, and HOU participation.

Most of the data is gathered from remotely from WKU's main campus by student observers who have undergone a rigorous training schedule to be able to use this equipment.  It is still possible to observe onsite, but preferred to be done remotely.

Updates to the observatory are always in progress.  We are currently in the process of fully automating the telescope.