CAC digging up out-of-this-world experience with astronomy, geology

(This article is a first in a series of stories about Central Arizona College’s outstanding science programs.)

By Guy Harrison

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz.Wayne Pryor is a professor of astronomy and geology at Central Arizona College who has been given the opportunity to collaborate with NASA.

Every once in a while, the Executive Branch agency will enlist Pryor’s intellect as it analyzes missions focused on Saturn and other planets in the solar system.

CAC is now benefitting from that intellect.

As part of the science division curriculum, Central Arizona College offers courses in astronomy and geology, both considered by Pryor to be hands-on classes that fulfill a student’s lab science requirement.

During the course of astronomy study, students will be able to get their hands on 14-, 20-, and 24-inch reflecting telescopes as well as other equipment at the college’s observatory. It is the same observatory Pryor shows off during CAC’s Astronomy Night at the Peak events.

The 24-inch telescope, which can be controlled by a computer, has the ability to take pictures of faint, distant galaxies.

“We are extremely lucky to have a 24-inch telescope,” Pryor stated. “It is unusual for a community college to have a telescope of this size.”

In Astronomy 101, students first learn the basics while working with the 14-inch telescope. Eventually, they work their way up to using the 24-inch equipment.

In addition to teaching sections of Astronomy 101, Pryor also oversees CAC’s Astronomy Night at the Peak events on the Signal Peak Campus. The celestial shows are open to the public at no charge and give visitors an opportunity to peer through the telescopes at planets, nebulas and galaxies.

Aside from instructing astronomy courses, Pryor teaches geology courses at CAC that offer students an interactive experience.

“All of our geology classes take field trips,” he said. “We take them caving, fossil hunting in Superior, and to the Grand Canyon.”

CAC’s geology courses focus on physical (rocks, ice, etc.), environmental (natural disasters), and historical (fossils) geology. Students can take these courses to fulfill a lab science requirement.

To register for CAC’s science courses, or for any class at Central Arizona College, please visit the institution’s website at (

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