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New Telescope Reveals the Vast, Exciting Universe
One of the most wonderful things about the Gateway Canyons Resort is being able to look up at the night sky and see the stars. With most of us coming from the city, the sky is blurred with light and we can’t see objects clearly. At the resort it is surprising what you can see with the naked eye.
We can learn about and get excited about our vast universe all over again.
Inspiring curiosity and excitement about space is also part of the mission of a new telescope that has come online at the Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, AZ. The $53 million Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT), with a 14-foot mirror is the fifth largest in the continental United States.
Adding a new telescope to the constellation of telescopes all over the world is a big event. Each one has a different size and view – enabling us to see different objects and areas in space with a different perspective.
The DCT should be able to provide some interesting images, as it is located 7,760 feet up on a cinder cone high in the darkness of northern Arizona – perfect for clear views of the night sky.
The DCT already has a wide range of important projects on its plate – including a spectroscopic survey of Kuiper Belt objects, observing asteroids and comets, searching for dwarf planets beyond Pluto and the study of the relationship between mass and luminosity in the youngest, most massive stars.
And that’s just a start – the research at the facility will tackle some of the biggest questions of our time, such as how our solar system formed and how dwarf galaxies evolve. Plus, the telescope will be in demand with astronomers around the world working on a wide range of projects.
For those lucky enough to grab time on the DCT they will be able to take pictures in optical and near-infrared wavelengths. They’ll be working with a state of the art piece of equipment. It has a Large Monolithic Imager (LMI), a single sensor, 36 megapixel CCD camera with a wide field of view amounting to 12.5 arcminutes on a side. Mirrors mounted near the LMI will let astronomers quickly switch between instruments allowing them to take images at the same time they take the spectra.
Clearly this is a complicated bit of equipment. In simple terms, it will allow astronomers to take long exposure photos of items to get a fuller perspective of objects, and with the near-infrared technology it can pick up items in space that may not be visible with optical telescopes. These are darker objects in space that can only be picked up by the heat signature captured by infrared.
The DCT is already sending back its first images such as the lemon yellow barred spiral galaxy M109 and the Sombrero Galaxy that were revealed at the official opening event in July. A man who was always looking upwards – the recently passed Neil Armstrong – gave the keynote as the images and equipment were first revealed.
With the name Discovery Channel Telescope there is no mistaking the connection between the telescope and the Discovery Channel, which along with Discovery Communications chairman John Hendricks have helped to privately fund the project. Their goal is to share knowledge gained from the telescope by creating educational materials and programming that will hopefully inspire and feed the curiosity of new generation of scientists, researchers and astronomers, who like Neil Armstrong did, will always be looking to the skies.
It’s expected it will take until sometime in 2013 for the telescope to be fully commissioned. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait that long to get the inside story on the building, mission and a further look at the first images coming in from the Discovery Channel Telescope – tune in September 10th to watch the hour long documentary “Scanning the Skies: The Discovery Channel Telescope.”
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