UIS Henry Barber Research Observatory

20-inch Telescope


The UIS Barber Research Observatory is a community supported astronomical observatory located about 30 km west of Springfield, IL, USA. This observatory is very different from most university research observatories because the Astronomy-Physics program at the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS) does not have a graduate or undergraduate degree program to supply students to staff it. Instead the Barber Observatory is staffed by dedicated community volunteers who have been trained through advanced astronomy courses offered at UIS.

The observatory was constructed entirely with community donations. It is maintained through an endowment and continued community financial support. The namesake of our observatory, Henry Barber, was the largest contributor to its construction and it stands as a memorial to his enthusiastic life long interest in astronomy.


The observatory staff is drawn mostly from a pool of dedicated community volunteers. Each volunteer has received training through advanced astronomy courses offered at UIS. The observatory volunteers assist with the observing, reduction of data, and maintenance of the equipment. Two of the volunteer staff have a zero time appointment from the university which gives them slightly more responsibility. A few of our volunteers are local K-12 teachers who have earned masters degrees in education through astronomy at UIS.

The observatory director ( John C. Martin) is a UIS faculty member and professor at UIS. The director is responsible for setting the research program, promoting the observatory, and coordinating the day-to-day and long-term activities.


The UIS campus observatory is separate from the Henry Barber Research Observatory. The campus observatory is used mainly for education and public outreach (including Star Parties ). The Henry Barber facility is dedicated to on-going research projects. Access to the research observatory is restricted to the trained volunteer staff and advanced astronomy students.

The site for the research observatory is reasonably dark with an estimated sky brightness of about 21st magnitude (approximately a 4 on the Bortle Scale). Our telescopes and equipment were custom built by Ron Hilliard of Optomechanics Research. There are two domes that house two custom-built Cassegrain focus telescopes: a 16-inch F/10 and a 20-inch F/10. The 16-inch telescope is outfitted with a photodiode photometer and a 2048x2048 back-illuminated CCD with UBVRI filters. The instruments for the 20-inch include a low resolution (R = 1000) single order diffraction grating spectrograph and a medium resolution (R = 20,000) Echellette spectrograph.

Research Programs

The research focus of the Henry Barber Observatory is stellar astrophysics. We currently have three on-going long-term programs.
  • Be Star Monitoring - This program was begun under Prof. Charles Schweighauser to simultaneously monitor the photometric and spectroscopic fluctuations of bright Be Stars. A Be star is a star that is much hotter and more massive than our Sun which has emission lines in it spectrum due to a disk of material accumulated from its stellar wind. Our current program is focused on the long-term monitoring of Psi Persei, 59 Cyg, Kappa Draconis, and 66 Oph. We are looking for patterns of behavior in these stars that will help to explain the mechanism that produces the strong emission lines in their spectra.
  • Bright Star Spectroscopic Catalog - With this program we intend to put together a high resolution (R = 20000) spectral atlas of stars in the Yale Bright Star Catalog. The collection of spectra will be available through an online web site. This collection is intended to be useful as a tool for teaching spectroscopy and encouraging the study and monitoring of the brightest stars in the night sky, many of which we know very little about.
  • Epsilon Aurigae - This program is part of the International Year of Astronomy effort to monitor the brightness and spectra of the star Epsilon Aurigae through its once-every-three-decades eclipse from 2009-2011. We are participating in an international pro-am astronomy collaboration to gather data that will tell us something about the dust disk of material causing the eclipse.
  • Supernova Impostors - This program is in support of an grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the terminal phases in the evolution of stars that are hundreds of times the mass of our own sun. Here is a link to that NSF award in their database. We are using the 16-inch telescope to monitor the brightness fluctuations of massive Luminous Blue Variable stars in nearby galaxies M31 and M33. We are also using the 16-inch to follow the long-term light fluctuations of supernova impostors discovered by supernova searches. As of the awarding of this NSF grant in 2011 only six supernova impostors had been identified and studied. With our collaborators at the University of Minnesota we aim to significantly increase the size of this sample.

Becoming Involved

We welcome continued support from the central Illinois community. If you live in central Illinois and you would like to become involved with the UIS Henry Barber Research Observatory, contact Professor John Martin in the Astronomy-Physics program at the University of Illinois Springfield.


Observatory Programs

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