Old observatory gets new telescope
- Bringing the stars closer to home
The new Lutz telescope has energized NAU undergraduates and
By MICHAEL THIEL
Arizona Daily Sun
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Northern Arizona University is bringing the stars, nebular galaxies,
planets and the moon closer than ever before with the newly installed
Barry L. Lutz Telescope for Educational Advancement and Training.
Designed and constructed in Flagstaff by RC Optical Systems, the Lutz
is a Carbon-Truss 20-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope of very high
quality with mirrors that are polished at an atomic scale, said
Morgan Conklin of RC Optical Systems. And with an estimated price tag
of $100,000, it did not come easy.
Nearly three years of planning, proposing and fundraising were
required in order to acquire the Lutz.
Financial support was a campus-wide effort, with donations
contributed from many different departments, professors, students and
members of the Flagstaff community.
As donations were received, members of the Physics and Astronomy
Department decided that if someone where to donate half of the amount
needed to acquire the telescope, then they would name the telescope
in honor of that donator.
Barry L. Lutz, interim dean for the College of Engineering, Forestry
and Natural Sciences, and Susanna Maxwell, office of the Vice Provost
for Academic Personnel, generously moved the project forward with
that $50,000 donation.
"As we get on toward retirement we began thinking about what we
wanted to leave behind. We wanted to invest in the future and the
students are the future," said Maxwell.
Lutz knew the need
The Physics and Astronomy Department has an exceptionally strong
program. And because Lutz is an astrophysicist and former chair of
the Department of Physics and Astronomy, he is familiar with the
equipment and realized the current equipment did not offer a strong
So when David Cornelison, chair of the Department of Physics and
Astronomy, made the proposal for the new telescope and planned to
make that a top priority, Lutz knew the equipment would provide a
concrete legacy toward the department and that the project was in
need of a major donor, Maxwell added.
During the first light ceremony Sept. 30, at the Atmospheric Research
Observatory on NAU's south campus, the new telescope was officially
named and placed into operation in time for the 2008 Festival of
Science. In just the first four days the dome was open for the
festival, approximately 500 people came to look through the eyepiece
of the Lutz telescope, said Stephen Tegler, a professor of Physics
Designed with traditional eyepiece observation, the telescope also
features an array of advanced technology. Some include the
telescope's computer-controlled positioning system, which allows for
pinpoint accuracy and easy movability when positioning the telescope
for viewing an object, and a charged coupled device camera.
The CCD camera is a useful tool for physics and astronomy majors
doing undergraduate research that involves the collection of
professional data .
"It's great to have a scope we can actually do projects on," said
Heidi Larson, a senior in the Physics and Astronomy Department and
member of the Astronomy club.
The observatory's 58-year-old infrared telescope could not produce
images with resolution comparable to the newer one.
"When it gets down to it, pretty pictures are great," said Kathy
Eastwood, a professor of Physics and Astronomy, during the first
Star light, star bright. Want to view the stars of the night?
The Atmospheric Research Observatory offers a unique viewing
experience for both the public and for physics and astronomy majors .
The Lutz benefits from Flagstaff's dark skies policies and its
elevation at 7,000 feet. That places the telescope above the Valley's
light pollution and into the clean and clear mountain air, where the
celestial twinkling can be observed.
On each clear Friday evening from 7:30 to 10 p.m., the dome is open
to the public. Anyone can view the stars, constellations or exotic
nebular galaxies through one of the observatory's 10-inch reflectors
or the Lutz. Staff from the Department of Physics and Astronomy,
along with students and members of the Astronomy club, will be
available during open viewing hours to assist in providing
information and answering questions about the telescopes and universe
In the works for the observatory include expanding open viewing hours
to Saturday nights and creating a Web page in order to upload data
and pictures captured by the telescope's CCD camera.
The Atmospheric Research Observatory was originally constructed by
Arthur Adel in 1952 with funding provided by the United States Air
Force. In the early 1960s, astronauts such as Neil Armstrong visited
the dome to search for lunar landing sites using the dome's original
The Atmospheric Research Observatory is located along South San
Francisco Street on NAU's south campus.
To contact the Department of Physics and Astronomy, call (928) 523-
2661 or e-mail astro.physic@....
Michael Thiel is a NASA Space Grant intern this year at the Daily