Pras Gustanto, Staff Writer

Dr. Harold Geller and George Mason University go back a long way.

After getting his undergraduate degree from the University of the State of New York, Geller proceeded to get both his Masters and doctoral degrees at Mason.

He rose from being an adjunct faculty member to full-time faculty in 2000 and ultimately became the current observatory director for the College of Science.

Each semester, an estimated 1,200 students flock to Geller’s telescope for research and entertainment. As the director, he helps manipulate the campus observatory telescope in order to provide viewers with what he calls a “better vantage point above the fourth story roof.”

He adds that inquiring minds are able to see how a professional telescope facility works.

But it hasn’t always been easy for Mason to be able to see the heavens from this vantage point.

The first observatory telescope was built in 1975 by students Chipper Peterson, Bob Veenstra and John Whalan. Within four years, the observatory was torn down to make way for the Field House.

An observatory was built around the Baseball Fields in 1980, but it too was torn down due to damage from a truck accident. And due to lack of funding, Mason would be without an observatory tower for the next twenty five years.

It was during this astronomical down-time that Geller, then a graduate student, circulated a petition around campus to build a new observatory. Previous advocates included Mason big names such as Provost Peter Stearns and former Mason president George Johnson.

None of these attempts at observatory building worked. Astronomy lovers at Mason would make up for this by holding informal and improvised sky viewing sessions at noted locations around campus, including the hills which now make up the Johnson Center.

Approval for a new observatory tower eventually came through in 2004. Construction began the same year and the tower opened three years later.

It was the brainchild of Geller himself, who helped design and develop it.

According to Geller, the furthest thing he was able to see with the new telescope was the Andromeda Galaxy – 2.5 million light years away.

Now, Dr. Geller is able to hold sky observation nights for students and sky lovers.

Last Tuesday’s astronomy night session was packed with students wanting to get a peek through the looking glass of Mason’s telescope. Although it was a cloudy night, Jupiter was visible. Thanks to the telescope’s magnification, students were able to see the various moons and rings surrounding the planet. Other visible astral landmarks included the famous Summer Triangle of stars Altair, Deneb and Vega.
Geller hopes that this new tool will bring the stars closer to students.

“[Humans are all] made of the same chemicals that came from the interior of ancient stars that died before our own Sun was born,” Geller said.

Viewing sessions are held every other Tuesday until Dec. 1.

For more information, visit the astronomy observation night’s web page, at