Canary Islands telescope expands night sky for FIU astronomers

Posted by Ayleen Barbel Fattal

An agreement between the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA), a consortium of 12 universities including FIU, and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) has reactivated the Jacobus Kapteyn telescope (JKT) in the Canary Islands.

The acquisition of the SARA JKT gives FIU astronomers a remotely operable telescope at one of the best observing sites for optical astronomy in the world — the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos which hosts about 20 telescopes on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma. This telescope allows SARA astronomers to explore parts of the sky that are not visible from telescopes in the United States or through the current SARA-South and SARA-North telescopes.

The JKT telescope was originally commissioned by the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands more than 30 years ago as part of the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, taking advantage of the excellent atmospheric conditions afforded by the steep volcanic island of La Palma.

“The JKT telescope is located at longitude 17 degrees west. Our telescope at the FIU Stocker AstroScience Center in Miami, Fla. is located at 80 degrees west and our telescope at Kitt Peak is located at -111 degrees west,” said James Webb, director of SARA-North and physics professor at FIU. “This allows us to start observing an object at about 2 p.m. (JKT), pick it up at FIU, and then keep observing through the night at Kitt Peak. We can get almost 20 hours in a row on a single object which opens up a world of new research opportunities.”

With the addition of the IAC as the first international partner in the SARA consortium, FIU has the opportunity to collaborate with more than 200 of Europe’s best astrophysicists.

“For the IAC, this is an important step forward in the collaboration we maintain with universities in the USA, a collaboration with which we are most satisfied because of the many possibilities it opens to stimulate the joint use of our facilities and further scientific exploration,” Rafael Rebolo, IAC director said. “The addition of the JKT to the network of telescopes operated by SARA allows an extraordinary temporal coverage in the Northern hemisphere, but also the access by the IAC, in its own time, to a telescope in the South which will help us all to do better science from both hemispheres,” Rebolo said.

Astronomers from the SARA partner institutions use the facilities to pursue research ranging from asteroids to quasars, as well as classroom and public outreach events. Remote operation of the instruments enables savings in travel costs, great flexibility in scheduling use of the telescopes for various projects, and immediate access for students at all levels. In addition to FIU, the SARA consortium includes the Florida Institute of Technology, East Tennessee State University, Valdosta State University, Agnes Scott College, Ball State University, the University of Alabama, Butler University, Valparaiso University, Clemson University, Texas A&M University-Commerce and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Additional information about SARA can be found at saraobservatory.org.

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