UMD Installs 'Eye in the Sky'

By KBJR News 1

December 8, 2010 Updated Dec 9, 2010 at 1:11 AM CDT

DULUTH, MN (The Northland's NewsCenter) -- For the last three months, students and professors at the University of Minnesota Duluth have been fine–tuning UMD's first high–powered telescope.

UMD geology professor Howard Moore says the the eye-catching, new tool is known by a simple name.

"This is robo–dome, and robo–dome is our robotic observatory," said Moore, huddling in his jacket on the wind-swept roof of Marshall W. Alworth Hall where the celestial tool was installed in early September.

The powerful tool consists of an 11-inch Cassegrain reflector telescope housed within a remotely-controlled dome.

Moore says as the telescope changes position, the dome follows it, transmitting images via ethernet cable to a series of host computers inside UMD's planetarium

"If you're teaching astronomy, astrophysics, it's nice to look at the objects in the sky, actually study them, and not just look at a text-book image," Moore says, describing the new academic energy he says the telescope has brought to his classes.

For dozens of astronomy and geology students, the professor's bold sentiments ring true. For those students, robo-dome also solves a major tactical problem.

"We'd be sitting in his kitchen, drinking coffee, sleeping on his floor, and waking up whenever his kids do" said UMD Senior Alex Westerberg.

Westerberg is describing class-time spent at his professor's home observatory where students previously had to go for the appropriate star-gazing experience they needed.

With the addition of robo-dome, that crucial class time has returned to UMD and allowed more students to access the technology. Many, like UMD Senior David Miklesch, are using robo-dome to gain in increased perception of their earthly surroundings too.

"What's interesting... is you look at the part of the sky that's all black and you don't see anything," said Miklesch.

"And you just take a short exposure here and you see stars that your eye couldn't see... So it kind of gives you a whole perspective on how big the universe is."

Written for the web by Matt Standal