UVI Astronomers Gain Access to Gemini Telescopes in Chile and Hawaii
|The Gemini Telescope (Photo Credit: gemini.edu)|
|Alexander Fortenberry, Physics Student, working|
at the Etelman Observatory
The Gemini Observatory consists of two 8 meter telescopes that collectively provide access to the entire sky from strategic mountaintop locations, and are capable of providing nuanced information about astronomical events that is not visible through smaller telescopes. The UVI team was granted four hours of use on the southern Chilean telescope, and ranked in the top quartile for the Northern telescope in Hawaii. Meanwhile, a smaller but faster robotic telescope is coming online at the Etelman Observatory (the Virgin Islands Robotic Telescope, VIRT), which will be able to identify gamma-ray bursts (GRB’s) a few minutes after they have been discovered by satellites. With access to both technologies in different parts of the world, UVI researchers will be among the first to obtain and analyze GRB data as it becomes available.
|Virgin Islands Robotic Telescope (VIRT)|
According to Dr. Cucchiara, who spearheaded the initiative, one factor that contributed to the proposal’s success was the physical location of the Etelman Observatory. Because UVI has the easternmost astronomical observatory in the United States, VIRT will be the first in line after Europe to pick up satellite detections of gamma-ray explosions. From these images, Cucchiara and his team will be able to determine whether or not an explosion is worth a more detailed look. If it is, UVI researchers are now authorized to tell Gemini South technicians in Chile to drop whatever it is they are doing and point at the explosion. They can also tell the technicians how to point, in an effort to collect maximum useable data from the massive telescope about the distance and chemical composition of the bursts.
“We are essentially filling a gap between observatories in Europe and Arizona,” said Cucchiara. “By adjusting the strategy for exploration of the bursts based on what we see, we will be able to share resources with a worldwide network of astronomers. Analyzing these astronomical events will help to explain how the universe evolved. It will also function as part of a knowledge base for a wide variety of climate change studies involving water, wind speed and weather analysis in general.
|Dr. David Morris|
“We will certainly be applying for grants,” said Dr. Cucchiara. “And we’re hopeful about that because our goal is to become more of a resource for scientists from all over the world.” Cucchiara continued, “The more we can engage with the worldwide network of astronomers, the more able we will become to give our students incredible opportunities to continue their education in astronomy and physics. The experience they gain at UVI will also catapult them to the forefront of research experiences at other institutions such as NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute or Harvard.”
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