Observatory Update from Dr. Hardersen
Greetings everyone -- This post is meant to give an update on activities at the UND Observatory and the plans for the remainder of the year and further into the future. Thus far, the year has been very eventful with the June Venus transit public event, which attracted more than 300 people to the observatory, and the April banquet and fundraiser, which raised about $2,400 for observatory material and equipment. These activities have increased the visibility of our activities at UND and around Grand Forks, but they have also helped to buy needed supplies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations. Thanks to all of you for supporting our efforts: past, present, and future.
As of today, both Internet Observatory #1 and #3 are operational. Both telescopes now have guide telescopes attached to the main optical tubes, which will dramatically increase the quality of the resulting observations and increase the faintness of the targets that we can study. Two long-term institutional light-curve projects are beginning, which include asteroid rotation studies and young stellar object (YSO) variability studies. These projects will feed into current research projects in Space Studies, particularly relating to asteroids, and will increase the breadth of work that we are conducting.
Internet Observatory #2, our smallest observatory, will be receiving a new mount in ~September and represents the culmination of mount replacement for all of the telescopes at the observatory. Switching to Paramount German Equatorial Mounts has been a smart move and offers much more accurate pointing and tracking capabilities. Once installed, this telescope will be used during the day to institute a program of continuous solar H-alpha observations, which was started this summer by testing of our research-grade DayStar H-alpha filter by campus student, Rakesh Nath. It's interesting to note that, in a previous life, this same filter flew on a suborbital rocket flight out of White Sands, New Mexico. This observatory will also be used at night, as necessary, for SpSt 425 and telescope training activities.
Also, we are currently collaborating with faculty at UND Atmospheric Sciences to derive 1st-order extinction coefficients for the sky above the observatory that will be combined with aerosol data at the observatory obtained by Dr. Jianglong Zhang and Dr. Randall Johnson. This project is already producing interesting results and is the first time, it seems, that this type of information has been derived about the observatory's sky through time. This project will continue throughout the rest of this year and extend into 2013.
In addition, I have resubmitted an NSF proposal to utilize the UND Observatory to train undergraduate students from around the state in the basics of observational astronomy and research. If funded -- and I hope it is as we have collaborators state-wide ready to participate -- then we will bring students to the observatory every summer, followed by the conduct of a remote observing project from their home institution during the following academic year. Each year will culminate in a one-day science conference at UND. I should hear from NSF about this grant either at the end of the year or the beginning of 2013. Also, if funded, we will add SpSt 426 to the curriculum that will allow both SpSt 425 and SpSt 426 to be offered around the state and give students a course that is dedicated to astronomical observations and data reduction.
At the end of July, I will teach a 2-day workshop to K-12 teachers in the Bismarck/Dickinson area and, hopefully, convince some of them to utilize the observatory in support of science education in their schools.
So, as of July 2012, we will be operating more than we will be renovating. Despite that, there are continuing challenges and goals that will keep us very busy in the future. Equipment needs include an interline CCD camera for improved solar observations and supplies for day-to-day operations due to regular wear-and-tear on equipment. We are trying to improve the aesthetics of the site by removing the old cottonwood tree stump, possibly replacing the fence, and lining the entryway and create a public star party paved area with our brick donation program. This donation program is gearing up and we hope you will participate. We are also seeking funds for a full-time observatory manager, which will maximize our operational capabilities and allow us to obtain the most data possible for institutional and student research projects.
In the longer term, we are hoping to add an observatory with a 24-inch telescope to the site and, on an even bigger scale, add a 1-meter-class observatory to the panoply of instruments. If this ever happens, it must be located at a different location as there is not enough room for such a large observatory at the current site.
Thanks again for your continued support. If you have any questions or comments about the observatory, please contact me at your convenience.
Dr. Paul S. Hardersen
University of North Dakota
Department of Space Studies
4149 University Avenue, Stop 9008
530 Clifford Hall
Grand Forks, ND 58202
Office phone: (701) 777-4896