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

The Role of the 0.6 m Telescope at Van Vleck Observatory in Astronomy Education at Wesleyan University

William Herbst (
Astronomy Dept., Wesleyan University

I review the variety of ways in which the 0.6 m telescope on the campus of Wesleyan University contributes to astronomy education. Wesleyan is representative of smaller institutions with only one or a few astronomers and an emphasis on undergraduate education. Institutions like Wesleyan are important contributors to the pool of applicants for graduate study in astronomy. The value of this telescope to our programs may be summarized as follows: 1) enhancing general interest, knowledge and support of astronomy by providing opportunity for many students, some of whom will rise to leadership positions in society, to share the excitement of the field, 2) teaching science to undergraduates in an exciting way using actual measurements for lab purposes, 3) attracting talented new people into the field, 4) training our advanced students to be able to use telescopes at any observaotry, and 5) supporting some research programs (monitoring T Tauri stars and supernovae, in our case) that cannot be carried out with shared facilities because of the time demands. A brief review of results obtained from the T Tauri monitoring program over five years is given. The important discovery of a bimodal distribution of rotation periods in the Orion Nebula Cluster is discussed. Smaller institutions need at least two things to continue to be effective members of the astronomical community. They are: 1) some support for instrumntation (e.g. CCDs) for the campus telescopes, such as is provided by the NSF-ILI program, and 2) the possibility to compete for observing time at world-class facilities, on a science-first basis. The latter item has been provided for many decades by NOAO at optical wavelengths. It is now threatened, and its loss would prove disastrous to Wesleyan and institutions like ours without the resources to provide alternate observational capabilities to our staff and students.

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