What’s Working: The James Observatory at Millsaps College

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) — Did you know that the oldest building on the Millsaps’ Campus is located on the highest spot in Jackson?

The James Observatory continues to inspire scientific minds.

People have used it to see everything from Halley’s Comet to Hayle-Bopp. Built in 1903, James Observatory was recently renovated and looking better than ever.

For more than 100 years its roof has opened up the night sky to generations of star gazers.

Shadow Robinson is a Physics professor at Millsaps.

“You can see any of the planets that you want,” Robinson said. “You can see Pluto, though it’s not a planet currently. You can certainly see all the other planets. We’ve looked at the moon.”

Through the years lights and a handrail have been added, but the telescope itself remains a masterpiece of mechanical ingenuity.

“We discussed early on, ‘Should we build a more modern instrument?’ But we felt the real interest is from the excitement of seeing what this looked like.”

Now the observatory can host students of all ages.

Scores of 7th and 8th graders from Sebastopol Attendance Center recently traveled from Scott County take a visual trip through the looking glass.

“Saw Venus and some stars. It was partly cloudy, so we didn’t fully see all we wanted, but saw enough to get them excited and go on and spread the news of a telescope at Millsaps that they can go back and look at,” said Science teacher Craig Gordon.

“It’s not like you are walking into a museum, and you have this behind a glass case. You can totally touch it. You can actually use it. You can actually see the science that happened 100 years ago, and then we can discuss how it has progressed in the last century.”

After all, some of the best learning takes place outside the classroom.

“Take advantages of resources in Central Mississippi,” Gordon said. ”
“Take your students out. It’s still hands on. It’s still what you can see, is the best thing in education.”

And at the James Observatory, you can see nebulas that are light years away from Earth.

The telescope uses a weighted mechanical system so it can stay fixed on an object in the heavens as the earth rotates.

You can use the stars to tell time right down to the second. In the early 1900’s Millsaps used the telescope to tell time and then sold that information to the railroad.

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