Butler Joins Astronomy Consortium
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Butler University has become the 10th member of the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy, a decision that will give students and faculty access to research-quality telescopes located in Arizona and Chile.
The telescopes, in Kitt Peak, Ariz., and Cerro Tololo, Chile, can be maneuvered remotely by computer. With a few mouse clicks, a user can open the domes that house the telescopes, control their movements and more. The images captured through the telescopes and cameras can then be seen on computer screens.
The image seen here, the Dumbbell Nebula, was taken by
“Our students now have hands-on access to telescopes all over the world – and are using them,” Professor of Physics and Astronomy Brian Murphy said. “They’re doing research projects and things we could not do from here in Indianapolis because of the sky brightness. This is certainly going to better prepare our students for graduate school – and for careers in astronomy. They’ll have that hands-on experience that a lot of undergraduates don’t get.”
Money to join the consortium, which is known as SARA, came from a portion of the $5 million physics alumnus Frank Levinson ’75 pledged to the University in 2007. More information about SARA is available at http://www.butler.edu/physics/?pg=5776
Murphy said the Kitt Peak telescope, situated at an altitude of 6,800 feet, is in an optimum location where the skies are 100 times darker and much clearer than they are in Indianapolis. While both the Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololo telescopes are roughly the same size as the one at Butler’s Holcomb Observatory, having access to these sites will enable Butler students to observe the cosmos from many different angles.
“It’s just amazing being able to operate a $2 million piece of equipment from thousands of miles away,” Murphy said.
Butler students now are likely to study exoplanets (planets circling other stars) and the rotation of asteroids, observe dwarf nova in star clusters, and perhaps look at the afterglow from gamma ray bursts – some of the brightest objects in the universe that emit light for a few seconds at a time.
Butler joins Florida Institute of Technology, East Tennessee State University, Florida International University, Valdosta State University, Clemson University, Ball State University, Agnes Scott College, the University of Alabama and Valparaiso University in the consortium.
“The consortium gives us the feel of a larger astronomy department because we all interact and collaborate with one another,” Murphy said. “This enhances an already strong part of our program.”
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