Frequently Asked Questions

About the Facility

Our Facility is an Observatory – NOT a planetarium.

At Cline Observatory we look through telescopes at objects in the night sky.  A planetarium projects images of the sky onto a ceiling, and you look at the show from comfortable chairs.  Sessions at the observatory are subject to weather conditions, while a planetarium show does not depend on sky conditions since it is held indoors.  Local planetariums include the Greensboro Science Center and SciWorks (Winston-Salem).

How long has Cline Observatory been in operation?

The Observatory opened its doors in October 1997.  GTCC hired its first full-time astronomy instructor, Aaron Martin, in 1990.  He came to the college with a vision of building a campus observatory with a strong public outreach program, and it only took seven years to bring his dream to fruition.  Since we opened, nearly 25,000 people have visited the facility.

Who is the “Cline” in the observatory’s name?

Our facility would not have been possible without the support and assistance of J. Donald Cline and his wife Jo.  The Clines recognized the importance of Aaron Martin’s vision of bringing astronomy to our students and the general public, and generously supported the building of the facility.  Don Cline has also supported other astronomical and scientific ventures around North Carolina, including The Cline Observatory at Guilford College (not to be confused with Cline Observatory at Guilford Tech!), Appalachian State University’s Dark Sky Observatory, and the North Carolina Science Museum.  In 1997, Don established the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) in the NC mountains.  PARI is an astronomical research and education facility.  Don Cline continues to serve as PARI president, as well as a GTCC Cline Observatory Advisory Committee member.

Where is the observatory located on campus?

Cline Observatory is located near Lake Katherine on the Jamestown campus of GTCC – it is building 7 on the Jamestown campus map.  The best places to park are the section of Lot C near Lake Katherine (and walk around the lake to the observatory) or in Lot F (and walk to the observatory between Science Hall and the Auto/Diesel Transportation Complex)

How big is the telescope under the dome? What is its magnification? How far can we see with it?

The observatory is equipped with a 24-inch PlaneWave CDK24 reflector on a Mathis MI1000 high precision fork mount.  The magnification of the telescope changes, depending on which eyepiece is being used.  Typical views range in the 120x – 180x range.  A more important property than magnification is light gathering power – a larger telescope mirror collects more light, and thus makes fainter objects look brighter.  We can see galaxies that are a few hundred million light years away, but they are very faint.

About our Viewing Sessions

What happens at a Friday Public Viewing Session at Cline Observatory?

If the sky is clear, we open the facility to allow visitors to view objects through the telescope in the dome and additional telescopes set up on the observing pad.  You look through the telescopes with your own eyes.  There is no official program – it is simply a viewing session.  We show various astronomical objects through the telescopes, point out constellations and other objects in the sky, and answer questions.

Visitors are free to come and go as they please – you don’t have to arrive at the beginning or stay until the end.

Typical turnout for our sessions is about 40-50 visitors per night, though session attendance has varied from 1-2 to nearly 300.

What time do the Friday sessions start? How long do they last?

During March-October, we start as darkness falls.  Typically, this is 30-40 minutes after sunset.  Since the time of sunset changes steadily throughout the year, our session start times will also change (Determine sunset time for a particular date).   In June-July we don’t start until nearly 9, but in late October we start around 7.

During November-March we start at 7:00.

Sessions usually last about two hours.  If we still have a big crowd or enthusiastic visitors at the scheduled ending time, we usually extend our session time.  If sky conditions worsen and we can’t see any more objects, we will end the session early.

How much does it cost? Are reservations necessary?

All our events are free and open to anyone with an interest in astronomy.  No reservations are necessary.

How will I know if the session is being held, or if it is cancelled due to weather?

If it is raining or completely cloudy, the session will not be held.  If the weather is uncertain, the best way to check session status is through the observatory’s Twitter page (@gtccastro:  Decisions about cancellation are usually made by the official start time.  If it is cloudy at the start and weather sources indicate that it might stay that way for a while, then we will close for the night.

Are there special rules for observatory visits?

There are a few restrictions – GTCC is a tobacco-free campus, so smoking is not allowed.  Food and drink are not allowed near the telescopes, so please do not bring them into the dome area.  Campus rules do not allow pets on campus.  North Carolina General Statues prohibit the possession of alcohol, drugs and weapons on campus.

The dome and outside observing areas are kept relatively dark.  In order to provide optimal conditions for viewing t is important to preserve night vision.  Please do not use bright lights near the telescopes (bright phone screens, flashlights, flash photography, etc.)

Is the observatory heated in the winter?

No.  Since the dome opens to the night air, any heat from inside will escape, and the warm air convecting through the dome opening creates unsteady conditions that distort the views of the objects we observe.  Therefore our policy is to try to keep the temperature of the interior of the dome approximately the same temperature as outside.  So sure to dress for the conditions.

Are the observing activities appropriate for young children?

The observatory is family-friendly.  Observing the Moon and planets will be an exciting experience for a child with an interest in science.  Very young kids are fascinated by the Moon, but tend to be overwhelmed by the observatory experience.

Group Visits

Can I bring a group to the observatory on Friday?

Groups are welcome at our Friday sessions, but we do ask that you let us know well ahead of time if you plan to bring a large group, so that we can try to recruit more volunteers to help with the session.  Since Friday sessions are open to the public, and there are no limits on the number of attendees (typical sessions average 40+ visitors), a group visiting on a Friday cannot be guaranteed any special attention.

Can a group arrange for a visit on a day or night other than Friday?

Group visits on other nights are possible, typically weeknights.  Specific availability will depend on the availability of our staff.  Because of our teaching schedules, daytime visits are usually difficult to accommodate.

To inquire about bringing a group to the observatory, contact Observatory Director Tom English.

If you have other questions you would like to see posted here, let us know.