The Rainwater Observatory and Planetarium is an educational ministry of French Camp Academy. It was an outgrowth of the desire to appreciate that “the Heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Since its beginning in 1985, it has grown in a remarkable way and served thousands of people throughout the Midsouth and around the world.
In the summer of 1985, a 16’ reflector telescope was offered to the Jackson Astronomical Association in Jackson, Mississippi. At the time, they did not have the room or money for it. So, a member of the Association asked Mr. Stuart Irby, Jr., French Camp Academy’s Board Chairman, if the school would be interested in it. Jim Hill, an FCA teacher, was an amateur astronomer and became excited about the project. Hill, assisted by teachers Terry Beutin and Terry Roberts, students Ed Hill and Jerry Thompson and alumnus Steve Garcia, armed themselves with saws and hammers and caravanned to claim the prize. In addition to the telescope, they brought back a 10’ x 10’ building with a roll-off roof, along with many books and accessories.
The building was placed atop of an open ridge on French Camp Academy’s Rainwater farm property about a half mile east of the main campus on Highway 413. Far from ambient city lights, the site was an excellent place for an observatory. Bill Clark, owner of Observadome Laboratories in Jackson, Mississippi offered a used 10’ dome if the school could restore it. Hundreds of staff and student labor hours later, a shiny dome sat on the hill and was dedicated to the Lord’s use on Easter morning at sunrise.
The Observatory, the largest in the state, is spread out on our hilltop site and has over 25 telescopes, plus other optical instruments. Our largest telescopes are a 32-inch Tectron with a Servocat and ArgoNavas automation system and a powerful, research grade, fully automated 25-inch Ritchey-Chretien Sangre telescope and control room with a long focal length, high resolution 6-inch Astrophysics refractor riding piggy back. We also have two 20 inch Dobsonian telescopes that yield spectacular views of the heavens.
...and a number of other powerful scopes!
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Our unique facility is located in one of the last remaining dark pockets left in the southeastern United States. We can offer a window into the splendor of the heavens that few around the country can offer. We provide day and nighttime astronomy related programming designed for a variety of different groups and organizations including but not limited to universities, schools, colleges, science and nature centers, senior adult and youth groups, international groups, scouts, civic groups, homeschools churches and other faith based organizations.
We are excited about our new indoor exhibits containing an impressive meteorite collection with such objects as a Mars meteorite, tektites and a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that hit Russia in 2013! In addition, we have an impressive collection of rocks, minerals asteroid models, space science art exhibit and other astronomy related displays. There are also a number of large scale outdoor exhibits such as solar system scale models and solstice-equinox alignment exhibits.
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We have an “Observa-dome" Planetarium with a six-meter dome and Spitz A-2 projector. It can seat as many as 50 people and is used primarily to teach stellar and planetary motion, constellations and mythology during the daytime and in the event of evening inclement weather.