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The NURO telescope dome with the Milky way in the background.

The Astronomy Program at Franklin & Marshall is a member of the National Undergraduate Research Observatory (NURO), located in Flagstaff, Arizona, and teams of F&M faculty and students make regular trips to Arizona to observe. These projects have led to publications in scholarly journals with F&M students as co-authors. The observing trips are hard work as the teams work from evening twilight to dawn, but the trips remain enormously popular with students. Side trips into the desert and into the Grand Canyon have become a tradition.

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On the way to the observatory.


NURO is a consortium of primarily undergraduate institutions that have joined together to provide hands-on training and research experiences for undergraduates. Its mission is to encourage more undergraduate students to choose scientific careers, and its member schools involve students in real research projects with observing in Flagstaff.

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The NURO telescope dome as dusk approaches.

The NURO Consortium includes both public and private universities from across the country. Together they share in 60% of the observing time on Lowell Observatory's 31-inch telescope, with instrumentation and observer support provided by Northern Arizona University (NAU) through the NAU Department of Physics and Astronomy. Astronomers and their undergraduate students at the member schools collaborate on key research projects as well as conduct their own private research. Current key projects include photometric monitoring of chromospherically active binary stars, light curves of extragalactic supernovae, and the rotation periods of young sunlike stars.

The Facility

Lowell Observatory's 31-inch telescope was completely refurbished in 1989-90 by Lowell Observatory with financial assistance from NAU and the Research Corporation. The telescope is fully computer controlled, and the observing teams work from a nearby "warm room". The optics, mounting, and computer control systems are excellent, and the telescope is a powerful tool for many kinds of astronomical observations.

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F&M students taking data with telescope in the NURO control room.

Undergraduate Research Experiences

Students at NURO member schools help to plan the observations, take the data, reduce it, and help to publish papers. NURO provides students with a chance to meet students and astronomers from other institutions, developing relationships and contributing to a sense of belonging in the astronomical community.

In addition to the NURO astronomers, students have opportunities to interact with scientists from Lowell Observatory, Northern Arizona University, and the U. S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff. NAU conducts an NSF-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduates program during the summers, and NURO students are strongly encouraged to apply.


Pictures from the March 2007 NURO trip

Pictures from the March 2008 NURO trip

Pictures from the July 2009 NURO trip

Pictures from the July 2012 NURO trip

Pictures from the May 2015 NURO trip

Pictures from the May 2016 NURO trip