RELEASE DATE: March 19, 2001
RELEASE NO: NOAO 01-07
A consortium led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Indiana University and Yale University has been selected to assume operational responsibility for the historic 0.9-meter (36-inch) telescope at the National Science Foundation's Kitt Peak National Observatory.
The same group of universities supports an advanced 3.5-meter telescope housed in a neighboring dome on Kitt Peak known as the WIYN Observatory, in cooperation with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), Tucson, AZ. NOAO will remain an active partner in the scientific programs of the 0.9-meter telescope.
"Hundreds of astronomers gained some of their first real professional experience using this telescope, and it remains a personal favorite' for many of them," says Richard Green, director of Kitt Peak National Observatory. "This transfer provides important scientific continuity for the research programs that use this proven workhorse, while freeing up some of our finite resources and skilled staff to work on initiatives that will benefit the entire astronomical community in the future."
"The 0.9-meter remains a superb facility for students and senior astronomers alike," says WIYN Director George Jacoby. "Thanks to NOAO's upgrades in recent years, the telescope takes more detailed and scientifically valuable pictures than it has ever done in its 40-year history. Over the last four years, it has also provided data to middle and high school students around the country in order to teach them what it is like to do original scientific research, and we will continue that program."
"The primary motivation behind WIYN operation of the telescope is cutting-edge scientific research," says Robert Mathieu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, president of the WIYN board of directors. "At the same time, much of this forefront research will be done by undergraduate and graduate students. Using a research-class telescope is very effective educationally. It's more closely linked to real science than classroom lectures and problem sets, and it's also a great deal more fun."
The 0.9-meter telescope was the first major astronomical facility on Kitt Peak, which is located 90 kilometers (56 miles) southwest of Tucson. Since it became operational in March 1960, the telescope has been used for a wealth of photographic, spectroscopic and photometric studies of the Universe. A second .9-meter telescope began operations on Kitt Peak in 1966.
During the summer of 1990, the original site was cleared for use by the new 3.5-meter Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO (WIYN) telescope. A single 0.9-meter facility was then assembled, using the best of both telescopes: the original 0.9-meter instrument was housed in the remaining dome, and operational control of the telescope was moved to a downstairs room, removing heat sources from the telescope area, and providing a more comfortable and efficient observing environment for visiting researchers.
Scientifically, the 0.9-meter is known for providing a wide field-of-view that can furnish images of one square-degree on the sky. Its many scientific accomplishments include observations showing that jets from stars under formation can stretch a parsec (3.26 light-years) or more beyond the local star-forming region. More recently, it has enabled precise brightness maps of large galaxies, and it has helped astronomers search for rare types of stars.
The 0.9-meter is flexible enough to accept an adapted version of NOAO's advanced Mosaic Imager, a charge-coupled device camera that will continue to be loaned to the 0.9-meter when not in use on Kitt Peak's Mayall 4-meter telescope. Observations with the 0.9-meter are also highly complementary with science programs that use the Hydra wide-field spectrometer on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope.
The university partnership has committed $500,000 over three years to upgrade and operate the 0.9-meter. They have been joined in this initiative by the University of Florida, San Francisco State University, Wesleyan University, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium.
The funds will support a significant upgrade of the control system for the telescope, including improvements to the interface between the telescope and a science camera called the 2k Imager. Regular operation of the telescope is scheduled to resume in Fall 2001.
NOAO will retain access to 40 percent of the Mosaic time on the 0.9-meter, awarded through its normal, open peer-review process of time allocation. The transfer of the 0.9-meter to an outside consortium, done on the basis of competitive proposals, follows a recent similar transfer of the 1.3-meter (50-inch) telescope on Kitt Peak from NOAO to a group led by Western Kentucky University, including Tucson's Planetary Science Institute.
A newly produced image of the Moon that showcases the wide field of view of the Mosaic camera is available at:
Other interesting images and sound files that illustrate the history of the 0.9-meter and the physical experience of observing the sky with it, gathered by NOAO astronomer Travis Rector, are available at:
Electronic images of the 0.9-meter and the 3.5-meter WIYN telescopes are available on-line at:
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