Beacon Observatory offers new opportunities

Secrets of the solar system and our galaxy will be unlocked with the opening of a new state-of-the-art observatory at Kent.

The Beacon Observatory is one of 12 Beacon Projects, unveiled as part of the University’s 50th anniversary, to illustrate our distinctive strengths and provide a platform for future activities and aspirations.

The Observatory, set to open this summer, is being overseen by a team led by Dr Dirk Froebrich and Dr Mark Price, both Senior Lecturers in the Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science within the School of Physical Sciences (SPS).

They explain why they bid for a new observatory and benefits for University students, staff and other users.

 

Successful bid

Dirk Froebrich: ‘We were selected as a Beacon Project because our new observatory really ticks all the boxes. It’s about teaching, scientific research and outreach to groups including local schools and amateur astronomers. It is also a real legacy and something we can be proud of!

‘The old observatory was completely outdated and hence hardly used. You had to sit within the dome during long cold nights to do the observations, so it was very challenging and uncomfortable to use.

‘Our successful bid has been used to buy a new dome, telescope, CCD camera and weather station, all from Baader Planetarium in Germany and to install them close to Park Wood (on the Canterbury campus).’

 

Telescope - Observatory - Beacon Project - SPS

Telescope – Observatory – Beacon Project – SPS

Faster and more powerful

Mark Price: ‘The new observatory will have both optical and (eventually) radio wavelengths detectors. The new semi-spherical dome will open flat to ensure maximum visibility. Its 17 inch Astrograph optical telescope is equipped with a sensitive 4000 pixel x 4000 pixel CCD camera and a set of narrow and broad-band filters.

‘We have also purchased a high frame rate camera which will be mounted on a smaller telescope to observe visible flashes caused by high speed impacts of meteorites on the Moon.

‘The Observatory will be remote-controllable and connected to the internet. Students, and other users, will be able to make observations from PCs located within SPS.’

 

Student using telescope - Observatory - Beacon Project - SPS

A student using the telescope – Observatory – Beacon Project – SPS

New opportunities

Dirk Froebrich: ‘The Observatory will enable SPS to offer enhanced teaching of Astronomy and Astrophysics programmes – taken by about 50% of Physics undergraduates. It should be ready for one or two final-year projects this winter. It will also be used for CAPS researchers’ ongoing science projects, including studies of variable young stars, asteroids and impacts on the Moon.

‘Looking ahead, the new observatory will help us attract the best students – for courses such as Astronomy and Astrophysics, it is important to offer hands-on practice. In the longer-term, we would like to run an astronomy lab course using data obtained with the telescope. We’re also looking forward to using the Observatory during our annual residential Space School weekends and for other outreach activities with schoolchildren.’

 

Official opening

The Beacon Observatory will open officially at the start of the 2015/16 academic year. Further details will follow here on the News Centre.