A Better View

Students adjust the position of the new telescope

Photo by Lisa Abitbol

Out with the old, in with the new, assisted by a very large crane.

Last May, Whitin Observatory’s 24-inch Sawyer reflecting telescope, an important piece of equipment for astronomy students since 1966, was hoisted out from under its dome and sent to a new owner in California. On June 12, a CDK700 telescope from PlaneWave Instruments, a 0.7m diameter reflector, arrived in its place, a new dome over it. (The mirror in the new telescope has a diameter of about 27 inches.) This is the department’s first major telescope purchase in more than 50 years.

“If any nostalgic alum asks why we traded in her good ol’ 24-inch, I would ask her whether she is still driving around in a 1966 Pontiac!” says Kim McLeod, the astronomy professor who oversaw the installation. She says the PlaneWave will “outperform the old one by a considerable margin because its mirror is shaped to deliver brighter images over a bigger field of view.” McLeod says its tracking motors will hold the stars steadier than before, and it can move across the sky more rapidly. The telescope’s measurements will also be more precise, and its computer system will interface seamlessly with contemporary software in equipment like cameras.

Students will be able to use the PlaneWave starting in introductory courses, something that wasn’t possible with the old 24-inch telescope. Majors and minors in ASTR 206 will use it to design and conduct research projects—perhaps monitoring a supernova or tracing the light of galaxies to discern their structures. And advanced students will be able to use it to assist in faculty research, like McLeod’s current project searching for planets orbiting in other solar systems.

Remote observation will also be possible. “Who knows,” says McLeod, “perhaps we can even allow alumnae to have occasional access … .”

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