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Rolnick Observatory keeps track of earth-shaking events around the globe

Published 7:22 am, Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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  • Bob Meadows, vice president of the Westport Astronomical Society, stands in front of the ground vault that holds instruments that measure seismic activity. Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News
    Bob Meadows, vice president of the Westport Astronomical Society, stands in front of the ground vault that holds instruments that measure seismic activity. Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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Talk about sensitive.

Many Westporters might be surprised to learn the site of the Rolnick Observatory is not only an astronomical center, but the epicenter for earthquake monitoring in this part of Connecticut.

"We've been a reporting station for the New England Seismic Network for about five years," said Dan Wright, president of the Westport Astronomical Society.

In fact, since June 2008, the observatory has been the site of one of only two other seismographs with official reporting status in Connecticut. The other is at Yale University.

"The Westport Astronomical Society's main goal is to advance a better understanding of science, no matter the discipline," Wright said.

"Science applies to everything we do in our daily lives," he said. "Science affects us all."

That's why the WAS, which has operated the observatory on Bayberry Lane since 1975 -- open to the public free every Wednesday night when skies are clear -- was happy to honor the request to install the system.

"The people at Boston College were looking for a location," said Bob Meadows, director of the observatory and WSA vice president. Boston College originally oversaw the NESN, but data collected through the Rolnick now goes directly to the U.S. Geological Survey, based in New Mexico. "I guess we had the conditions they needed. We provide power and an Internet connection to them."

"Originally, we had the instruments up in the tower, under our telescope, but it was too unstable," Wright said, referring to the three-story observatory tower which houses the 14-inch refractor telescope, situated on the southeast side of the property. "The instruments are very, very sensitive."

"The tower would move with the wind and stuff," including the foot traffic from its use," Meadows said.

Instead, a hole was dug on the northeast side of the property, where two large plastic garbage cans were set in concrete and thickly insulated in fiberglass to allow the sensitive machines to function undisturbed.

A conduit was dug 30 feet or so to the small office building, where the machines are hooked up to a computer-sized processing device, which then feeds into the internet, where it's transmitted back to New Mexico.

"We all agreed on a good location, got permission from the town and other than a few internet glitches, we've been reporting seismic activity ever since," Wright said.

"The vault is locked at the observatory by the USGS so we don't have access to the contents," Wright said, though they were able to take a look at it last December, when the USGS came to upgrade the instruments.

"Understanding ourselves and our home helps us better understand our universe and our place inside of it," Curtis said.

"Everything is connected in some way or another."

The Rolnick Observatory data is viewable through Boston College's Weston Observatory website at http://bit.ly/1roB0j5.

For more information on the Rolnick Observatory and the Westport Astronomical Society, www.was-ct.org