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Observatory Gets Star Treatment

The telescope in the Gilbert Roberts Observatory has been updated with new technology and is nearly ready to offer more heavenly views.

Observatory and Telescope

The telescope and dome are now controlled by a computer. "We can select an object displayed on the control screen, select it, and the telescope and dome will slew into position so that the object appears in the eyepiece of the telescope. The telescope and dome will continue to track (move) to keep the object centered," said Dr. Smith Powell, physics professor. The new system tracks better and the telescope points quicker and better than before.

The telescope, its control system and electronics were designed more than forty years ago and could not be changed over to computer control, so the right ascension and declination drives (which steered the telescope toward precise locations on a celestial map) were removed, as were the primary gears and focusing motor. These were replaced with stepper motors and optical encoders installed by DFM Engineering, a company that retrofits older telescopes and designs its own. A computer and software were added, the telescope was recollimated and a pointing model was obtained, according to Dr. Powell.

The system will be operating soon and the observatory will continue its open house schedule from four years ago. "Students, staff and townspeople can use the telescope to view some of the wonders of the night sky," said Powell. "In addition, we will develop research projects. One student already wants to use the telescope in his senior research project. New faculty will use the telescope in their research and for student projects." The telescope was also updated with additional capabilities for sharing its use. In the future, if Berea wanted to set up the system to share control with another telescope on the other side of the world, the capabilities are now there to do so.

"I am pleased that I can turn over a working telescope rather than a crippled one to the new astronomy professor that will join our staff this fall," said Powell.

The improvements totaled a little more than $65,000. The science department received an initial grant for $25,000 from a donor to be applied to the astronomy program at Berea. "The rest of the funds came from the US Department of Education grant for $500,000 that Berea College received last summer through the efforts made by Dean Stephanie Browner and Senator Jim Bunning," said Dr. Powell.

The observatory in the Charles M. Hall Science Building was updated three years ago by Science Technician Dan Brewer and student, Dennis Burton. Dennis received the Danforth Creative Effort Award in 2004 for making the trap door into the observatory more accessible, cleaning and painting the observatory, and building hand rails, book shelves, and a better desk. "All were needed," said Powell.

For more information please contact Dr. Smith Powell at or 859-985-3301.

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