Telescope Deck and Imaging Lab

Telescope deck phone: (717) 358-3880

The observing deck on the 4th floor of Hackman Laboratories contains low vibration piers which hold six 8-inch Meade LX-200 telescopes. Cables in conduit under the floor connect the telescopes with six laboratory PCs. The telescopes can be operated in three modes: students can begin learning about telescopes by moving and pointing the telescopes manually; the telescopes can also be controlled using the computer built into the telescope base with commands entered through the hand paddle; finally, the telescopes can be controlled from the computers inside the lab. The astronomical imaging laboratory, located next to the observing deck, allows students taking astronomy courses to work with computer controlled telescopes and CCD cameras to record and process images of celestial objects.

Each telescope is equipped with an SBIG ST-7 CCD camera with a 5-position filter wheel. Sub-floor cables connect the CCD cameras to the lab computers, where students can operate the cameras and telescopes, record images, and enhance and measure images. Software on the lab computers includes The Sky, a planetarium program that allows students to point the telescopes and CCDSoft, a program that controls the camera and permits analysis and measurements from images. Students can switch from program to program with a single click of the mouse to move the telescope and record images.

In addition to controlling the telescopes and cameras, the imaging laboratory is also designed to support cloudy night labs and student projects. Although six computers are connected to the telescopes, the lab also contains additional computers. All of these computers contain CLEA software for cloudy night labs and are used by classes and by individual students for projects. All of the computers are networked to the Internet for ease in communication with astronomical databases world wide.

The imaging laboratory at F&M was used by classes beginning with the 1997-98 school year. A new spectrograph has been purchased and is currently being installed and tested. It will permit students in upper level courses to obtain spectra of planets and bright stars and to analyze the spectra. We are continuing to develop new ways for astronomy students to use the laboratory and experience digital imaging in astronomy.

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A student testing out a new telescope in the imaging lab.
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Setting up for evening observing on the telescope deck. 

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Full moon image taken from the observing deck with the camera, telescope, and focal reducer.