The Role of Small Telescopes in Modern Astronomy, October 14-15, 1996, Lowell Observatory

The New 0.8-m Telescope at Vassar College

Debra Elmegreen
Dept. of Physics & Astronomy, Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY

Astronomy has a long tradition at Vassar, beginning with the college's opening in 1861. Maria Mitchell, America's first woman astronomer and one of Vassar's first professors, firmly believed that the best way to learn astronomy was to do astronomy; we adhere to that policy today. Her observatory, housed in a brick building in the middle of a tree-studded, brightly illuminated campus, no longer serves the needs of our astronomy department. We are building a new observatory at the edge of campus, and expect completion in spring '97. Known as the Class of 1951 Observatory after our primary donors, it will house a 32" f/6 telescope made by DFM, a 20" telescope made by Optomechanics, an 8" Alvan Clark refractor, and an 8" coelostat. We will have a 1024x1024 back-illuminated CCD and spectrographic capabilities. We expect to reach about 17th magnitude in V for 1% differential photometry at the new site, which is 3 magnitudes fainter than at the old observatory. The sky is about 18.5 mag, which is one mag fainter than at the old site, and the seeing is expected to be about 2.5" compared with the old 4.5". The new observatory will serve a variety of purposes, from public viewing at the Alvan Clark, to intro course observing and student training at the 20", to independent work, senior theses, and faculty research at the 32". Typically we have 10 senior majors per year, with about half in astronomy going on to graduate school. Long-term monitoring of variable objects, such as our study of SN 1993J in collaboration with our Keck consortium members (Colgate, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams) is ideal for small dedicated telescopes such as ours.

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