As you meander through the Orange Grove on the way to the Valley Performing Arts Center and the Orange Grove Bistro, or gaze between the branches of Grove trees from Nordhoff Street, you may notice a new, curiously shaped pod open to the heavens. The new solar observatory will house a minimum of two telescopes and will replace the San Fernando Valley Observatory (SFO) currently on Department of Water and Power land. It joins the stellar observatory and planetarium already on campus.
The solar observatory is one of very few that record solar activity and sunspots, and this data will have an important impact on the study of global warming and the protection of human and animal populations. A solar cycle lasts 11 years and the SFO has provided documentation for over 22 years—a wonderful opportunity for tracking changes over time.
According to an L.A. Times article, CSUN’s astronomer, Dr. Gary Chapman, and others believe that a sudden, unexplained, disappearance of sunspots may have been responsible for, at least in part, a period of unusually harsh winters in Europe known as “the little ice age,” stretching from about 1500 to 1850. Sun spots (which are associated with solar flares) can disrupt power grids and radio transmissions, and they can damage satellites. Dr. Chapman recently co-authored a research paper resulting from a joint project of the High Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and the SFO and Department of Physics and Astronomy at CSUN.
Having the solar observatory on campus will influence more students to take physics and astronomy classes, and a whopping 10% of our science students go on to take advanced degrees in the science field. CSUN is qualified as HIS (Hispanic-Serving Institution) and AANAPISI (Asian American Native America Pacific Islanders). We also have a strong institutional commitment to increasing participation by under-represented students in STEM fields.