Students come to Colorado State University for all kinds of reasons – the stellar academics. The beautiful campus. The dark skies?

New Jersey native Norm Revere, amateur astronomer and astrophotographer, wanted easy access to peaceful, pitch-black skies, away from big-city life. It’s a reason (not the only one) that he chose CSU, where he is about to finish up his freshman year, majoring in physics.

“In New Jersey, the closest dark place is a seven-hour drive away. It’s super light-polluted, and you can’t see a lot of things like you can around here,” he said. “It was a major thing. I wanted to come to CSU because it’s nice here, I like Colorado, and because of the dark skies. And of course CSU is a great school.”

Just a short drive east, for example, is the Pawnee National Grasslands, a paradise for spotting deep-sky objects during a new moon. To escape the grind of college life, Revere spends time there with his camera and his personal telescope, an Orion ED80T apochromatic refractor.

CNS Learning Community astro nights

Revere has shared his passion for night skygazing with the College of Natural Sciences Learning Community in Laurel Village, where he resides. And the Learning Community has embraced that passion.

Just weeks after Revere arrived on campus – he enrolled in CSU sight unseen – he helped Learning Community Peer Academic Leaders (PALS) organize the first of what would be several astronomy events at Laurel Village this year: the viewing of a lunar eclipse. Set up with a projector and Revere’s own telescope, about 150 students gathered outside Pinon Hall and watched a brilliant orange blood moon fade into totality, projected onto the amphitheater wall.

“I wanted to start doing stuff here right away,” Revere said. “During the first couple weeks of school, we had a lunar eclipse and I thought, we have to do something. People will be inside watching TV, and meanwhile there is this huge celestial event going on and people will have no idea.”

Weeks before the fall semester started, CNS Learning Community Coordinator Allie Keller had corresponded with Revere about bringing his car to campus – he needed it for his astronomy expeditions, he explained. Her skepticism faded when he sent her some of his best photos.

“The pictures were amazing. I knew he was serious about this, before I even met him,” Keller said.

“I wanted to come to CSU because it’s nice here, I like Colorado, and because of the dark skies. And of course CSU is a great school.”

Support from other stargazers

Throughout the year, with the help of the Learning Community, Revere has connected with staff at the Little Shop of Physics, including Heather Michalak, who loaned the students telescopes from an astronomy lab for other viewing events; one was called “Deep Sky Desserts.” And during the fall semester, Michalak and physics professor Roger Culver, who teaches astronomy and will retire this year, helped the students get a telescope permanently donated to Laurel Village to support future programming.

In early March, they took that donated telescope — a 12-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain — on an overnight astronomy trip to the CSU Semi-Arid Grasslands Research Facility, an hour north of town. Perfect for stargazing. About 25 students attended. They stayed up late. They ate snacks. They looked through telescopes. They learned about Messier objects. They’re gearing up now to observe the transit of Mercury on May 9 at Laurel Village.

Putting together these and other Learning Community events has been “a blast” this year, said Donny Larson, a Peer Academic Leader. “It’s about connecting people. By having these astronomy events, people can come hang out and learn about stars, which is cool already on its own, but they can also learn about the scientific aspects.”

Other Learning Community activities have included an event about air plants, and one called Spooky Science, for Halloween.

“People ask me why I like to take pictures when you can just look up pictures on the Internet,” Revere said. “Well, it’s nice to be able to say I did it myself. This is my picture of something I took that’s several thousand light years away.”

How it all started

About three years ago, Revere was sitting in high school physics class when, he says, “Something hit me. Suddenly I wanted to buy a telescope.” His dad had one, an old-fashioned refractor, with which he could look at the moon and various planets.

He researched what kind of telescope he wanted, and settled on an Orion XT10. It was the only Christmas present he asked his parents for, and they granted his wish.

One night, while Revere was looking at the Orion constellation, “all of a sudden this big gray blob thing goes flying by.” What was that?

It was the Orion Nebula, and from there, Revere was hooked, even as his bank account shrank. He bought a camera to attach to his telescope and became a moderator on the astrophotography subreddit, which has close to 60,000 users worldwide.

“People ask me why I like to take pictures when you can just look up pictures on the Internet,” Revere said. “Well, it’s nice to be able to say I did it myself. This is my picture of something I took that’s several thousand light years away.”

He paused. “I have pictures of galaxies I’ve taken that are millions of light years away. You have a single photon traveling through space for 30 million years, and it ends its journey in my camera. That’s pretty cool. At least I think so.”