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23 July 2004

Australian & UK Schools get top New Telescope

School students in Australia and the UK have just received a research tool that many an astronomer might envy – a new robotic telescope that has just opened its eye at The Australian National University’s (ANU) Siding Spring Observatory in eastern Australia.

The A$9 million telescope has been funded by British philanthropist Dr Martin ("Dill") Faulkes. With a mirror 2m in diameter, it is the third-largest optical telescope in Australia.

Faulkes Telescope South, as it is called, complements Faulkes Telescope North on the island of Maui in Hawai’i, which saw ‘first light’ in August 2003.

In return for hosting the new telescope at Siding Spring, ANU will receive 15 per cent of its observing time. The University has donated two-thirds of this time to a program for Australian schools, giving young Australians unprecedented access to their skies.

ANU staff prepared the site for construction and will operate the telescope on a day-to-day basis.  “This is a fantastic opportunity for students in both the UK and Australia to come face-to-face with deep space using state-of-the-art equipment,” said the Director of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Professor Penny Sackett.

Australian students will most commonly use the telescope in its robotic mode, in which observations are scheduled ahead of time and carried out automatically by the telescope.

UK students may also use this mode. They will also be able to control the telescope in ‘real time’ through the Internet during their daytime classes.

Both the UK and Australia are developing education programs that use the telescope’s capabilities. The Faulkes Telescope Australia education project is run from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.  Schools will submit their observing requests to Swinburne, which will have them scheduled, the observations made, and the data returned to the school.

 “We are looking forward to bringing the excitement and discovery of astronomy to the students of Australia,” said the Swinburne Project Scientist, Professor Duncan Forbes.  

A pilot education program will be run in late 2004. A full program should be ready for the start of the Australian school year in 2005.

The Anglo-Australian Observatory, which has two telescopes at Siding Spring, will support Faulkes Telescope South by re-coating the metal surface of its mirror every six months and providing some other technical services.

The Faulkes Telescopes have been designed and built by UK company Telescope Technologies Ltd, which also built the Liverpool Telescope on the island of La Palma. The three are the world’s largest fully robotic telescopes.

“When it’s being operated robotically, Faulkes Telescope South will use sophisticated scheduling software to decide in which order it should make observations. This software takes into account the environmental conditions, such as windspeed and the amount of moisture in the air, the quality of the observations required,” explained TTL’s Software Team leader, Martyn Ford.

Construction of Faulkes Telescope South started in December 2003.  The last stages of the installation went smoothly. The primary mirror was installed by lunchtime on Friday 9 July, and by 7 p.m. that day the engineers were viewing the star Spica, in the constellation Virgo, through an eyepiece.

With Faulkes Telescope South complete, ANU’s Siding Spring Observatory is now home to nine telescopes, belonging to the ANU, the Anglo-Australian Observatory, UNSW, and now Faulkes Telescope Australia.

Dr Martin ‘Dill’ Faulkes studied cosmology for his PhD from Queen Elizabeth College, London. He then moved into the software industry, using the computing expertise he'd gained in astronomy. He has been developing software companies worldwide for more than 20 years.

The Faulkes Telescope Australia project is managed from Swinburne University of Technology, with support from The Australian National University, Macquarie University, Charles Sturt University and The Anglo-Australian Observatory.

 

Project Scientist

Associate Professor Duncan Forbes, Swinburne University of Technology

 

Support Astronomers                                                                                            

Dr. Chris Fluke, Swinburne University of Technology
Dr. Quentin Parker, Macquarie University and the Anglo-Australian Observatory
Dr. Brad Carter, University of Southern Queensland
Dr. Paul Francis, Australian National University
Dr. Glen Mackie, Swinburne University of Technology

 

Education Officers

Mr Cameron Bell
Mr Bill Cooper

 

Financial Sponsors

The CASS foundation
Dell Australia
The Dill Faulkes Educational Trust
The Ian Potter Foundation
The William Buckland Foundation

Contacts

Australian National University

  • Professor Penny Sackett, Director, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Tel: (02) 6125 0266, email: director.RSAA@anu.edu.au
  • Dr Bruce Peterson, RSAA
    Tel: +61-2-6125-8035, email: peterson@mso.anu.edu.au
  • Ms Julie Houghton, Manager, Siding Spring Observatory Exploratory
    Tel: +61-2-6842-6211, email: juls@merlin.anu.edu.au

Swinburne University of Technology

  • Professor Duncan Forbes (currently travelling)
    Tel: (03) 9214 4392, email: dforbes@astro.swin.edu.au
  • Dr Glen Mackie
    Tel: (03) 9214 5743, email: gmackie@swin.edu.au

Macquarie University and Anglo-Australian Observatory

Anglo-Australian Observatory

  • Professor Fred Watson
    Tel: +61-2-6842-6301, email: fgw@aaocbn.aao.gov.au

Telescope Technologies Limited

  • Mr Geoff Shannon
    Tel: (at Faulkes Telescope South site) +61-2-6842-6345,
    email: geoffsh2004@yahoo.co.uk
  • Scott Cherry Tel: +44-(0)151 650 3100
    e-mail: sdc@ngat.com

Faulkes Telescope Project

  • Dr Paul Roche, Director, Faulkes Telescope Project
    Tel +44-(0)29-2087-5121, email: paul.roche@astro.cf.ac.uk
  • Dr Lucie Green, Communications Manager, Faulkes Telescope Project
    Tel: +44-(0)29 2087 5121 (office), +44-(0)7884 426104 (mob.)
    email: Lucie.Green@astro.cf.ac.uk


Websites

  • The Faulkes Telescope Project – http://www.faulkes-telescope.com   
  • Faulkes Telescope Australia education pages - http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/faulkes/
  • Telescope Technologies Limited- http://www.ngat.com

First light/mirror installation photos

  • http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/faulkes/pictures/photos.php

Animation

First-light movie (Quicktime)

  • http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/faulkes/movie/movie

 

__________________________________________________________
Helen Sim
Public Relations and Media Liaison, Anglo-Australian Observatory
02-9372-4251 (office)  0419-635-905 (mob.)
hsim@aaoepp.aao.gov.au
__________________________________________________________


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2-April-2004

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