The Duke University
Welcome to the Duke University Teaching Observatory.
The site in the Duke Forest, 9/12/02. Nine piers for SCTs are in place, and power connections are
underway. View to the South shows open skies over the trees.
Hidden in the Duke Forest, a new facility is coming into existence at Duke. For years, several Duke faculty members have maintained that existing observing facilities are not satisfactory, and place unreasonable constraints on the crucial observation component of Astronomy courses. In recent years, another reason for improving our observation facility has arisen. Observational astronomy has emerged as an immensely successful component of outreach programs that use Duke faculty and students to enhance science instruction at the Durham Public Schools. An improved facility would help bring more of the wonders of the sky to larger numbers of students. In the spring of 2001, two pilot events were held at the proposed site. Amateur astronomers among the Duke faculty brought their personal telescopes out, and students and teachers from the Durham Public Schools were invited to view the skies. More on these events can be found online here.
Now, on a field site provided by the Duke Forest, and with the financial backing of the Provost, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, and the Physics Department, a new facility is under construction and should be operating in the fall of 2002. This site will eventually contain information on applying to use the facility, a schedule of planned events, etc. For now, we will mostly track the ongoing work as the observatory becomes a reality.
June, 2002: Funds for the observatory have been authorized. Plans for the initial phase call for the purchase of several heavily automated Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (SCTs) in Altitude-Azimuth mounts for student observation, as well as a 16” Newtonian reflector in a permanent equatorial mount, equipped for Astrophotography. Permanent piers will be constructed for the SCTs, as well as other “visiting” telescopes, and a storage facility to hold them. The larger Newtonian will be housed in a retractable structure of some sort, including its mount.
July XX, 2002: Our first telescope arrives! A 10” Schmidt-Cassegrain by Meade, it will serve as a template for constructing the piers.
September 2, 2002: First observation at the site with our new telescope. Setup is a cinch, and we (Mark Ammons, Karl Martinez, and Ronen Plesser, the staff of PHY 55, the introductory Astronomy class) have fun all over the sky until a cloudbank covers the field around midnight.
September 9, 2002: First observation session at the site for PHY 55 students. Naked-eye and binoculars for now.
September 12, 2002: Nine piers are positioned at the site. These are steel corner-beams, embedded in a 24” sonotube of concrete which itself rests on a concrete block (see picture). The top of this carries a plate adapted to take the LX-200 mounting screw. Power connections for the telescopes are being installed.
For more pictures, look here.
September 16, 2002: Four more telescopes arrive at Duke. This completes the first stage of purchasing. We are now awaiting end of construction at the site and a suitable storage facility before using these. We will also be ordering the 16” reflector.
September 27, 2002: PHY 55 staff takes out the four new telescopes to test them out on campus. A lot of interested passersby want to see what we are up to. See Mark Ammons and Karl Martinez assemble and test the telescopes. One GPS receiver does not function.