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Saturday, February 24, 2024

UF’s astronomy observatory was recently ranked fourth in a list of the top 25 college observatories in the nation on CollegeRank.net.

According to the listing, the Rosemary Hill Observatory is a strong selling point for students who aim to study the stars, physics or related areas.  

“It provides a good training ground for our graduate students who need to use large, sophisticated instruments elsewhere,” said Howard Cohen, associate professor emeritus in the UF astronomy department. “It provides an opportunity for them to get their feet wet.”

Founded in 1967, the RHO is about 30 miles southwest from Gainesville. The facilities include two telescope domes, a dormitory and utility buildings, according to the UF astronomy website.

Unlike many other observatories featured on the list that are public, the RHO is private and intended more for research, Cohen said. UF’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Society has visited the observatory at least once a semester in the past two years as part of their social events, said Natalie Foster, a 20-year-old UF astronomy and physics senior and president of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Society.

Satellite photos show Rosemary Hill near the center of the largest dark area in north Florida, where it is free from light pollution, according to the UF astronomy website.

“A lot of people are surprised when they go out there for the first time because it’s in a part of Florida that doesn’t have a lot of big cities so it’s really open, and the trees are low, so we have a lot of sky to look at,” Foster said. “Sometimes you can see the Milky Way. It’s really nice.”

Foster said she believes that the department could continue to gain recognition for the observatory if given the support it needs.

“I think if we could get a little more money to improve it, we might get that award again sometime,” Foster said. “I think it’s definitely something that we can strive toward.” 

[A version of this story ran on page 11 on 7/3/2014 under the headline "UF observatory gets star ranking"]

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