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Calvin-Rehoboth Robotic Twin Telescopes

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  1. Calvin-Rehoboth Robotic Twin Telescopes Deborah Haarsma, Larry Molnar, David Van Baak (Calvin College) http://www.calvin.edu/observatory Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  2. Project Description • Goal: Give undergraduate students direct access to the physical universe, both eye-at-the-eyepiece and their own CCD images. • Constraints: At a small, midwestern college, we are limited in faculty free time, funds, dark sky, and clear weather! • Design: To meet our goal within the constraints, we chose to • Use off-the-shelf components as much as possible, to save money and faculty time. Only recently have components become available which allow unattended robotic operation. • Install two identical telescopes: • A telescope on campus: for students to view through the eyepiece and to understand the equipment, and for faculty to develop and debug the system • A telescope at a remote site with dark sky, lots of clear nights, and high elevation: for acquiring high-quality data in an efficient batch mode. • Our remote site is in Gallup, New Mexico, on the campus of Rehoboth Christian School (K-12). We provide some telescope time for their studentsin exchange for a rent-free location and utilities. A local science teacher and network administrator, Mike De Young, gives invaluable assistance with installation and occasional physical intervention. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  3. Timeline • June 2000: NSF Grant submitted • June 2001: NSF Grant revised and submitted again • June 2002: Received NSF CCLI A&I grant for $130,000, and $170,000 from Calvin College formatching and infrastructure funds • March 2003: local telescope installed in existing dome • April 2003: remote foundation poured • May 2003: remote dome assembled by student work crew • November 2003: remote telescope installed • January 2004: a student crew makes remote system operational • Remote telescope used 45 nights per semester in 2004 Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  4. Construction Installation of local telescope Foundation of remote scope Installation of remote scope Remote dome assembly Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  5. Hardware Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  6. Software Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  7. Hardware we developed Equipment rack: external support was key both to optical path stability and long term reliability Flat box/Mirror cover: we mounted a flat box on the wall of the dome, providing good calibration and a park position for the telescope with a de factor cover. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  8. Performance • Limiting magnitude of 21 (in unfiltered 5 minute exposure and moonless sky) • Field of view is 21.5x14.5 arcminutes (2150x1450 pixels) • Photometric accuracy of 0.02 mag (14th magnitude star, 30 second exposure, R filter) Sedna at 21st magnitude Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  9. Exterior/Interior Views Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  10. Operation • A team of student observers (mostly physics majors) operate both telescopes. Each pair of observers is responsible for one night of the week. When clear on campus, they hold open-house in the dome until 11 pm. When clear in New Mexico, they plan and launch an observing schedule at the beginning of the night and return in the morning to download data. • Students in courses request data using custom web forms to specify the observing parameters • Students analyze their data during regular class time. • In our first year, the remote telescope was used in six different classes and several independent research projects. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  11. Pedagogical Goals While students are predisposed to find Keck or Hubble images awesome, they tend to compartmentalize them along with computer simulations, and treat them all as a high technology universe relevant to success on exams, but separate from the universe they inhabit. Our twin telescope strategy is intended to overcome this conceptual divide by taking students stepwise from the starting point of direct experience to an ending point of data sets for which they feel personal ownership, yet in which they see rich physical implications. Specifically, students • use a slide mirror to experience the relationship between direct viewing in the eyepiece and images made with a CCD camera • use scientific methods: carefully plan observations (understand hour angle, etc.), overcome difficulties (clouds, poorly planned observations), calibrate data, and interpret scientific information in their photos • gain an integrated understanding of the sky (a single image may show a satellite, an asteroid, a star cluster and a galaxy cluster) • experience the joy of personal exploration (choosing their own targets for photography) and discovery (both planned and serendipitous) Examples of student work are in the boxes below. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  12. Kemble’s Cascade,Tyler Eelkema Helix Nebula, Emilee Frost Horsehead Nebula,Sam DeYoung Saturn, Kyle VerMeulen Introductory astronomy classes for non-science majors: students choose a target of interest to image, plan the observation, and produce a web page presenting their data and information about the target. The efficient operation of the remote telescope allows each student 20 minutes of data for their project. M15, Megan Thomassen Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  13. Asteroid 2003 RA11 (smallest red circle) discovered by Andrew VandenHeuvel. The images were combined to track on the new asteroid. Two other asteroids are shown moving differently than the stars. Course for majors: To complement lectures on Newtonian dynamics, students search for new asteroids, and use the force equation (and Mathematica spreadsheets) to predict positions two and four weeks out. In 2004, ten asteroid discoveries (and many recoveries) were reported to the Minor Planet Center. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  14. NGC 2420 by Aaron Dull M3 byPeter Cook Course for majors: To complement lectures on stellar evolution, each student makes an H-R diagram of a different star cluster, with the class covering a range of cluster ages. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  15. Upper level astronomy lab: students do imaging projects with 5 hours observing time per target, including mosaicing of wide fields, high dynamic range galaxy images, and detailed color images. The students also study the response and noise properties of the cameras. Some of their images are shown on the following pages. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  16. Phil Ammar, The Whirlpool Galaxy Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  17. Elise Crull, The Trifid Nebula Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  18. Andrew Vanden Heuvel, the Ring Nebula Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  19. Peter Cook, the Pinwheel Galaxy Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  20. Andrew Vache, the Pelican Nebula Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  21. Phil Ammar, The Whirlpool Galaxy Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  22. Phil Ammar, The Whirlpool Galaxy Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  23. Independent research project: Calvin student Chris Beaumont is studying the time evolution of the quiescent disk of the cataclysmic variable system U Geminorum by observing changes in the eclipse of the hot spot by the companion star. Our system has observing time to do projects that require extensive monitoring—a research advantage of smaller telescopes. Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting

  24. High schools: In 2005 we will work with some select high schools to develop curricula for using the remote telescope. Rehoboth Christian School serves primarily Navajo and Hispanic students, and this program will give them additional exposure to science. We hope to inspire the next generation of scientists! Poster presentation, January 12, 2005, 205th AAS Meeting