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