NMT, NRAO Unveiling New Radio Telescopes At Campus Observatory

NMT, NRAO Unveiling New Radio Telescopes At Campus Observatory

Upgrades Will Give Students Hands-On Experience in Radio Interferometry

SOCORRO, N.M. – New Mexico Tech and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory are unveiling an exciting new "Radio Astronomy Interferometer" at the Etscorn Observatory this Friday. This joint effort between NMT and the NRAO will provide cutting edge radio astronomy instruments for students, teachers, and the general public with the goal being the ability to learn more about the universe using Radio Astronomy Instruments.

The ribbon cutting ceremony will be at 8:30 a.m. Friday, July 29, at the Etscorn Observatory north of Facilities Management on Buck Wolfe Drive. The campus community and local residents are invited to join this brief ceremony for a sneak peek of all the amazing capabilities at the observatory! Meet the people who have made this instrument possible and learn about the future plans for this unique resource right in Socorro's own backyard!


The Etscorn Campus Observatory

The Etscorn Observatory has about a dozen instruments, but the majority are optical telescopes. The new radio instruments will greatly expand capabilities in the sort of science being done at the Very Large Array and the NRAO.

The Observatory has two radio telescopes, which are being refurbished. The new effort will add a third telescope to the array, as well as new computers, new signage and security fencing. The new interferometer will give students a hands-on learning lab for radio telescopes and interferometry, which is the domain of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

Physics professor Dr. Dave Westpfahl said, "When we teach the students about radio astronomy and interferometry, we can't take the VLA apart. But we can take this apart. This instrument is a conceptually clean way of teaching how an interferometer works."

Dr. Sharon Sessions of the Physics Department said the new instrument is a scaled down version of what happens at the VLA.

"The NRAO has been working hard on this," she said. "Part of the purpose is to provide education and outreach opportunities to let students and the public have a hands-on experience and to understand what happens at the VLA."

Mark McKinnon, NRAO's Director of New Mexico Operations, said,"Etscorn Observatory is a great resource for education and for public outreach, and NRAO is happy to help in adding the ability to demonstrate the basics of how a world-class research telescope like the VLA actually works."


Linnea Saby of the NINE Program at NRAO and Dr. Miller Goss, former Director of the Very Large Array, examine a radio telescope at the Etscorn Campus Observatory.


The Etscorn Observatory is unique among campus observatories because students are in charge. The Astronomy Club is in charge of the facility, along with faculty advisor Dr. Dan Klinglesmith. Students have the keys to the facilities and they run the show.

Students do much more than astronomy lab assignments at the observatory. In addition to telescopes domes and a computer control room, Etscorn has a cozy meeting room where students hold pizza parties and movie nights. The Astronomy Club also hosts a monthly Star Party at the facility on the first Saturday of the month.

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Student Observatory Boasts

Impressive Array Of Telescopes

The Frank T. Etscorn Campus Observatory is named after former Tech psychology professor Dr. Frank T. Etscorn, the inventor of the nicotine patch, who recently started teaching at Tech again. Etscorn is an avid amateur astronomer and donated the seed money in the early 1990s to build facilities and purchase equipment. Since then, the Astronomy Club has accepted several donated telescopes and purchased its own equipment, along with help from the university and private donors.

The Observatory is one of the primary sites for the annual Enchanted Skies Star Party, a premier astronomy event held over four days every October. The facility is also used by the Summer Science Program, a six-week intensive course organized by NMT, Cal Tech, University of Colorado and MIT.

The Observatory's telescopes include the following:

• Tectron 20-inch optical telescope
• Three Celestron 14-inch Schmidt Cassegrains
• Meade 8-inch
• Three Coulter Odyssey 13.1-inch
• Coronado 40-millimeter solar telescope
• Two Karl Electronics 3.05-meter radio dishes