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Hidden Gem: Weston Observatory

Discover a Hidden Gem in Weston that you may have driven by and never known it existed. Or maybe you have not visited this interesting spot in years. So take a little trip with Patch...we’ll show you the way.

Tucked away in the northwest corner of Weston is a quiet, unassuming building that is part of a global network tracking changes and movements below the Earth's surface.

The does not, contrary to first impressions, track the stars in the sky. 

"Our primary focus today, here at Weston Observatory, is earthquake monitoring, with an emphasis on earthquake monitoring in New England and surrounding areas," said Director John Ebel during a recent visit to the site.

The New England area gets about 20 to 30 earthquakes per year, with about three to six of them felt somewhere in New England, said Ebel.

The station is also able to detect any earthquake in the world over a magnitude of 6 on the Richter scale. There is generally at least one earthquake per day from somewhere in the world that is detected at the observatory, said Ebel.

Visitors can see a range of monitoring machines, from the primitive first ones installed by the Jesuits to more modern machines used today. 

With the magic of technology, Ebel said most stations don't really need to be monitored by humans 24 hours a day anymore—he gets notified by a phone alert if there is a great deal of seismic activity that requires his attention.

When the Japanese earthquake in March hit, for example, , while he was asleep at home.

The observatory was first established in the early 1930s, as part of Weston College, a Jesuit school. It monitored its first earthquake in January 1931, said Ebel.

It later became part of Boston College in the late 1960s and today is under BC's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. 

In addition to its work on monitoring regular seismic activity, the observatory also does educational outreach, as the BC Educational Seismology Project.

Students from BC's Lynch  and scientists from the observatory go into classrooms and teach school children about monitoring seismic activity and even equip them with their own small seismic monitors. You can see a video demonstration of how one works at the right.

Things are never boring at the observatory, said Ebel. Because earthquakes are so variable, being at the observatory can be a different experience every day.

"There really isn’t a typical day, and that is one of both the challenges and fun things about seismology," he said.

To take a tour of the observatory, check out the policies listed on its website. During the academic school year, the observatory also holds a monthly colloquium series on a variety of seismology-related topics.

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