Articles

Stars in Alignment: UT Astronomy and the Discovery Channel Telescope


(Narrator) The University of Toledo
Department of Physics and Astronomy, has signed on to partner in what leaders
of the Lowell Observatory call their Boeing moment, that moment where they
decided to bend their entire future on the construction of one of the world’s
most sophisticated and powerful telescopes As the Boeing incorporation did when it
first began work on the 747, during the 1960’s. Today the gamble is
paid off in the first images have come in for the world to see and the University of
Toledo is poised to play a significant role. (Zerbey) We’re playing in the major
leagues. We are right with the big guys and what that means to our community,
let alone to our students, and our faculty is incredible. (McMillen) Sometimes the stars align, to
create a situation where you have all the elements for greatness, and I
think that has happened here. (Narrator) One of three university
partners, including Boston University and the University of Maryland, UT has
joined a consortium with the Lowell Observatory and Discovery Channel
to conduct scientific research using the Discovery Channel telescope, a 4.3 meter
telescope, located south of Flagstaff and purged high on the Mogollon Rim,
overlooking the Verde Valley. It is the 5th largest telescope in the
continental U.S. and one of the most technologically
advanced. (Smith) A number of us decided to see if
we could push it to another level, and we made a very small couple minute
pitch to President Jacobs, that was I believe in May. And he was
immediately interested and engaged. And very quickly things sort of snowballed
and the pros got quite interested, and we started looking at it quite
seriously. (Putnam) The design of the telescope is
unique in terms of it is an incredible general purpose work force. It can do,
the fact that it can have multiple instruments on it simultaneously, the
fact that it can have multiple instruments at different places on the
telescope makes it easier on us. It is a very general purpose work force,
so bringing in other institutions who have different areas of expertise and want to
research different things. We’ve now got an instrument where
everybody can sort of work at the things they want to work at and exchange
that kind of information among themselves. (Cushing) It’s everything, I know that
the distinguishing quality of a top notched program is dedicated access to
a ground base facility, so this is big. (Narrator) Described by some as the Swiss
army knife of telescopes, the DCT poses tremendous opportunities for UT
researchers. (Cushing) Beauty of the DCT is that the
instrument bay on the back has just a little flip mirror that you can turn
any instrument that you want in 30 seconds so we have a lot of flexibility in the
ability to change instruments and when I mean instruments I mean cameras that look
a very specific wavelengths or, you know, a disperse of elements, it will take a
spectrum and you can flip between all these instruments. (Dr. Hussain) What I think is new system
for our astronomy department to be in the league for some of the
leading astronomy departments and scientists of working. (Dr. Bjorkman) It’s a huge step forward
for the group. As astronomers, we typically have to apply
for time, we have to compete with thousands of other astronomers. It’s very
difficult to get time allocations for more than say one semester at a time and
you may only get a few days with the access to the DCT as a science partner
we’ll be able to know that we have access to this telescope over a longer
period. People can plan long term science projects
that will be much more interesting and much larger in scope than what they’ve
been able to do by trying to compete semester by semester for observing time. (McMillen) We already had invested in some
new faculty members. New faculty members are just doing a terrific job getting
national publicity appearing in national publications. And that led to
talking about the final step and the final step was as we discovered
in administration was buying into a major telescope. (Smith) We’re a modest group. We have
about eight faculty in astronomy. I mean the largest departments are 30 and 40
faculty, 5 times our size. But in many ways, we have been a group
who’s on the move. We’re incredibly accomplished and particular with space
astronomy. (Cushing) Stars that I study are Brown
Dwarfs, they are failed stars, so they are very very cold. They have temperatures
anywhere from 1000 degrees Kelvin down to effectively room temperature which is
like 300 degrees Kelvin. And because of that, they emit most of
their light in the infrared. There are two instruments that are going
to be put on the DCT in the next year or two that look at infrared wavelengths,
so I will be definitely be using one of them called Night, which is a
spectrograph. It disperses the light of an object out so that we can see the
intensity of the light at different wavelengths. (Dr. Chandar) So most of my research thus
far has been focused on detecting star clusters and galaxies, like our own Milky
Way, but nearby where we can see the entire galaxy. So we find these clusters
using the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble is a great star cluster finder, but
the DCT will be a great tool for better determining properties of those clusters,
like their chemical compositions, like their space motions. That’s not
something we can get out of the Hubble. (Narrator) Undergraduate and graduate
students are already seeing value, knowing that they will potentially be able
to earn time using the DCT. (Simanton) Knowing that we will have that
time available, that you don’t have to fight with every single person in the
astronomical community to get time really makes it appealing to try to put in
a proposal for the telescope here. (Starkey) The Ritter Observatory that we
have on campus is an amazing piece of technology, but we are very limited by
our location and here at this, where are we at? At 7500 feet. We have
great visibility and we should be able to do some amazing science out here. (Smercina) With this new deal, hopefully
I’ll do some research myself with a project, with the DCT, and that
would be pretty cool (Chandar) This will allow basically all of
our graduate students now, to go to a telescope, to learn how to take
data, and to take data for their own projects. (Smith) Most likely many of the ways
that we’re going to use this telescope, and many of the things that we’re going to
discover with it, we haven’t even yet conceived of. You know until you get the
thing on the sky, and until you can see what it can do, then
the gears start turning, and then you really start putting together
pieces and come up with something that you haven’t even dreamed of before. (Narrator) But not only does joining the
partnership enhance research at UT, the Discovery Channel’s role provides
built in opportunities to share new science with the nation. (Hall) Discovery and Mr. Hendricks has
contributed 16 million into the capital cost of the project in return for naming
rights and first right of refusal to the images from the telescope for
educational use. (Zerby) President Jacobs is all about
getting national attention and international attention to what we do. Because a lot of what we do, people don’t
even understand or don’t even know about it. And this is a
big step in that direction. (Simanton) Having a partnership in it, in
a larger telescope is really beneficial, cause I mean right now a lot of the
professors we work with data from a really great prestigious telescopes, but
being so involved in, you know, the instrumentation and the science going
on at a single telescope, I think will really give our department
a certain reputation. (Narrator) But beyond national media
attention for UT’s department of Physics and Astronomy, the partnership
also represents a strong opportunity to enhance educational outreach through the
Ritter Planetarium in launching new interest to atronomy
among the 20 thousand young people that visit it each year. (Cushing) UT is sort of unique in the
sense it has a Planetarium associated with a research facility and most of the
times Planetariums are on their own, or research institutions are on their own,
and it’s a wonderful marriage because we have access to literally the
cutting edge of astronomy and anything that’s going on a lot of our
astronomers are involved in. So we can take that brand new knowledge
that we literally just got off the telescope a month ago and tell the public
about it. Tell the Toledo community about the
discovery we are making. (Dr. Bjorkman) Not only will this give us
a much stronger research program but it also will give us the opportunity
to bring the research discoveries back to our community and to school children and
come to the Planetarium and to the public that come. And the
Planetarium is a wonderful outreach arm of the University. It serves many
thousands of people every year. And this will give us much more material
to incorporate into the very shows we’re doing in the Planetarium. And to be
able to really carry what we’re doing back into the people who we really want to
know about what we’re learning about the universe. (Hussain) I think that’s a wonderful
and great stepping stone, for any young child to be able to get
acquainted with astronomy at that level. And we have great stuff. They have knack
for public relations and with relating with people. And I understand that is a
very popular place to visit for school children and the youth. (Zerby) The University is now in the big
leagues for astronomy. We are partners with Boston University,
University of Maryland, and Discovery Channel with the Lowell
Observatory with a facility that’s amazing and what it will bring to our campus to
our students and faculty, is incredible. (Music)

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Comments
  • Toledo why don't you get your own telescope? Lol just kidding good luck with this new and interesting project…

  • Many time share telescopes have been in operation for many years around the world for mostly professional research use . I believe this one just got more recent attention because it is the 5th largest professional telescopic instrument in the nation. Did you who are not astronomers listen to the particular numbers quoted here? It's a 4.3 Meter precision mirror (That's 13 feet in diameter compared to the meager and low quality Mount Palomar 102 inch mirror, as it was only a mere 8.5 foot mirror full of low tech flaws, the largest in the world in 1948 when opened for use about 25 miles northeast of San Diego,) where instead this Discovery Channel Telescope is perched on a 7,500 foot level mountaintop near the Flagstaff Arizona region of very dark skies with the state of the art technology connected to it, for professional astronomy studies.This combination makes the DCT now known as one of the most powerful telescopes in the world. Also someone [it is mentioned here] contributed $60,000 MILLION for its development and educational use, especially arranged by the Toldeo Ohio University. That alone makes this a world class project and for college level students. This is very unique and good news for all of our young students education worldwide.       

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