Under The Caribbean Sun


*Reproduced with the permission ofThe Intellectual – art, science and architecture magazine. Originally appeared in March 2016 issue.*

The idyllic Caribbean. The Grand Cayman, boasting one of the top ten beaches in the world. The seven mile beach stretch is a haven of sun, sea, sand and surf with the backdrop of steelpan music filling the air….under the crisp starry night. Yet, one resident is looking up at the starry night instead, working hard at bringing Science to the region. Dr. William Hrudey is the founder and brainchild behind The University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI) Observatory. This is located on the campus itself on the Grand Cayman in the Caribbean. The Caribbean region has four Astronomy observatories, located in Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad. The newest member to join the Caribbean entourage is the Bill Hrudey Observatory. Opened in February 2012, the UCCI Observatory really had its origins in Edmonton, Canada in 1954. Wm. (Bill) Hrudey and his fellow teenage cohorts all had an interest in science and, astronomy in particular. They “hung out” at the University of Alberta’s modest Observatory and fortunately were encouraged and mentored by professors from the Departments of Mathematics and Physics. Such an interaction had a lifelong impact on young Hrudey. It was during that time that Wm. (Bill) Hrudey began designing his version of the “perfect telescope”. University, career, wives and children precluded this project until he retired in 1997 aft er a successful career in medical practice as a neurosurgeon and moved to the Cayman Islands, his new home. Bill began construction of his special scope – a 12.5” Newtonian reflector on a fork mount. Completed in May of 2004 it became a victim of Hurricane Ivan, which all but destroyed the Island on September 11, 2004. Most of the scope was under 3 feet of salty muddy water and only the Optical Tube was salvageable.

Later rebuilt and completed in mid 2010, the scope was, as originally intended, offered in donation to the University College of the Cayman Islands as a means of promoting science in the educational system. UCCI President J. A. Roy Bodden was delighted as his vision for the University relied heavily on promoting science and technology. Through a variety of corporate and community entities, some CI$140,000 was raised in order to construct a permanent observatory outfitted with a classroom on campus complete with a powered roll-off roof over the observing deck. Th is was formally opened in February 2012. A competition open to all school children was held to name the telescope. The winning entry came from a little 6 year old girl. The telescope had been dubbed “Pixie Twinkle”. No doubt perhaps the most interesting telescope name in the world! A number of introductory Astronomy courses have been provided by Chris Cooke of the Cayman Islands, Astronomical Society; an Amateur Telescope Making course was given by Wm. (Bill) Hrudey which resulted in six new 6” Dobsonian reflector scopes and in January 2015; a comprehensive hands on course on Digital Astro-Imaging was provided by Wm. (Bill) Hrudey.

In preparation for the Transit of Venus, which occurred on June 5, 2012, sufficient funds remained for the purchase of a Lunt 60 PT solar scope. The transit of Venus was broadcast across the Caribbean from the UCCI observatory due to their favourable geographical location in the region. This was simulcast in Trinidad on television from the UCCI venue where thousands lined up to view this once-in-alifetime event. The suite of equipment at the observatory was further upgraded to allow for subsequent solar hydrogen alpha imaging. These events have led to a multitude of H1a solar images virtually on a daily basis with marked improvement seen in technique and image quality. Many of these spectacular images have been uploaded  to www.spaceweather.com and, a number can be found by simply Googling “Bill Hrudey”. Bill’s system has evolved to white light imaging using his TSO 115mm APO triplet/Baader Herschel wedge and his custom built 8” Solar Newton. The latter is one of less than 30 such scopes in the world and, the only one in the Caribbean.

The observatory has been the hub for several events and programs. These include student and community group tours – hundreds of school students and  community groups have toured the Observatory facilities, the telescopes and images. Recognizing that science is not given priority in the educational system,  annual STEM Conferences have been held since 2012. Both international and local speakers provide inspiring presentations on a variety of science related topics  over the 3 day program. Thus, one can see great potential for encouraging science through astronomy in the educational system as well as the general public. Dr  Bill Hrudey has dedicated his life to promoting the love for science through Astronomy in much the same way he was influenced as a young man….what better  place for such than the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean.