Albertson College Telescope to Focus on the Treasure Valley's Night Sky
2002. 10. 16.
CALDWELL, ID- The Treasure Valley sky's stars, moons, comets, galaxies and planets are under a lot more scrutiny these days now that the Albertson College Physics Department has fully-automated, computerized, networked, and calibrated its telescope and observatory.
In a partnership with the college's Information Technology department, physics professors John Jurcevic and Jim Dull coordinated the overhaul of the college's 20-year old Celestron 14-inch diameter telescope and observatory.
Now, the telescope - named ART, the Automated Robotic Telescope - is mounted on an automated, robotic mount that drives the telescope controlled via computer. A research-grade, thermoelectrically-cooled Santa Barbara Instruments Group ST-9E CCD camera is available to make hi-resolution color digital photographs that produce sharper images than the human eye.
The telescope drive and control system were obtained from Software Bisque, of Golden, Colo., and the dome was automated by Meridian Controls Corp., of Berthoud, Colo., to provide full computer control of the dome and telescope.
The college's observatory sits on the roof of Boone Science Hall in the center of campus. The telescope and observatory were originally donated to the college by Dr. O. David Johnson, a Caldwell amateur astronomer, who has also provided funds for maintaining the observatory.
'It is deeply satisfying to me that the observatory has been upgraded instead of abandoned,' Johnson said.
Albertson students doing astronomical research can simply target a celestial body on a computer in the observatory, and the telescope moves precisely to seek out the target that may be thousands of light years away and beyond normal human vision - whether they be the star Vega, M13: The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, the Spiral Galaxy M101 in Ursa Major or the Ring Nebula in Lyra.
'This gives students a taste of real astronomy,' Jurcevic said. 'This is about as close to a scientific grade telescopes as you can get.'
According to Jurcevic, other than the telescopes at the Bruneau Sand Dune State Park, the Albertson telescope would be the most sophisticated and powerful research telescope in the Treasure Valley.
The advanced mount also gives students a chance to work with computer-controlled robotics.
Jurcevic said that like many scientific projects, the telescope still is a work in progress. He hopes to fine tune the calibration, add weather detectors and fully network the telescope so that a student could - via Internet - control the telescope from any computer, anywhere, at anytime.
'Students could do a whole lot of research while they sleep, rather than suffering cold nights in the observatory,' Jurcevic said. 'And with weather detectors, the observatory would automatically close in case of rain or snow.'
Coincidentally, the college recently replaced its campus lighting with shielded lights, which cuts down on the amount of rogue, ambient light that before greatly clouded the views of the heavens from the observatory.
The observatory is open to the public and private viewings can be arranged through the science department. The Albertson Astronomy Club is planning to arrange regular public nighttime viewing programs in the near future and coordinate programs aimed at providing local science teachers and students an opportunity to carry out astronomical research projects via the Internet.
Although Jurcevic said there weren't any big-ticket celestial events coming up in the near future, there are always great things to view.
'There are always comets in the skies, you just have to know where to point the telescope."For more information, see the Albertson College astronomy website, or contact Jurcevic at 459-5420.
-- CofI --
Editor's Note: For high-resolution jpeg photos of the telescope and photographed celestial images, see www.collegeofidaho.edu/comm/phantom/telescope.htm. The jpegs can be converted to tifs for publication.