Planetarium

Officials from NWA Space, a non-profit organization, plan to build a planetarium and STEM research center in Lowell, Arkansas, that they hope will open in the next five years.

NWA Space officials are planning to build a planetarium, observatory and research center in Lowell, Arkansas, that they hope will open in the next five years.

The observatory will house a refurbished telescope worth about $10 million that Swarthmore College officials gave to NWA Space. Officials plan to build the center, which will seat approximately 150 people, in Lowell, Arkansas, on 100 acres of land west of Interstate 49 at the intersection of Monroe Avenue and Bellview Street.

Finding a location for the observatory has been long and complicated, said Anne Diallo, a founding board member of NWA Space and a UA political science professor.

The Kathleen Johnson Trust donated the land to the city of Lowell in agreement that the land would be used for educational or entertainment purposes in the region.

Katherine Auld, a professor at NWACC and chairwoman of the NWA Space board, created the organization five years ago. Members had plans to make the planetarium and science center a reality from the start.

“We started just as an idea,” Diallo said, “A dream that Dr. Auld had because she teaches astronomy and geosciences, and there’s no place for her to take her students.”

Diallo and Daniel Barth, a board member and UA professor of STEM education, hope that the center will be a valuable resource to local educators as well as an attraction for tourists and locals alike.

The center will also have room for classes on subjects like chemistry labs to the science behind knifemaking. The research center will be focused on all types of STEM education, not just astronomy, Diallo said.

The telescope in the observatory will be the second largest refractor telescope available to the public in the U.S., Barth said, behind the U.S. Naval Observatory and tied with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Swarthmore College officials gave away the Sproul Telescope, built for the college in 1911, to NWA Space after it had fallen into disrepair, Barth said. The refurbishment should cost between $250,000 and $350,000.

The telescope lens has a diameter of 2 feet and the glass is 8 inches thick, and the telescope is about 36 feet long. Looking through the telescope would make Jupiter appear the size of a basketball, Barth said.

NWA Space officials plan on raising money through word-of-mouth donations and fundraising events, Diallo said.

The organization has done outreach in the past such as gathering people on Dickson Street to look at the moon, planets and stars with telescopes. NWA Space has not been able to do events like these recently because of the weather, Diallo said.

NWA Space will have a BreakOut fundraising gala March 14 in Bella Vista, Arkansas. Tickets will start at $70.

Andrew Elkins is the associate news editor of the Arkansas Traveler. He worked as a reporter and photographer from 2018-2019.

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