Our Wonderful New Telescope

You certainly didn't expect me to avoid discussing our wonderful new telescope in the first column after we installed it, did you? We're like fathers with photos of their newborns. Just in case you managed to miss the First Light Celebration at the end of July, let me tell you about Frosty Drew Observatory's new stellar attraction.

We have replaced our prior telescope with a new one five times as powerful. Equipped with a CCD imager (a kind of super digital camera), our telescope becomes about 150 times as powerful. It has been an experience adjusting to all this power. The Moon is so big and bright that we have to use dark filters to avoid dazzling visitors. Previously a Moon image filled a standard eyepiece. Now a single crater can fill the same eyepiece! We see details as close as Apollo astronauts when they flew with 500 miles of the Moon's surface. Compare that to what our unaided eyes see a quarter million miles away.

Our new telescope isn't just big and beautiful, its brainy as well! It knows the sky as well as any seasoned sky watcher. Ask it to find Mars and it does it without hesitation. Typically it hits its targets almost dead on, but for those extremely dim objects which are at the limits of visibility, it is smart enough to sneak a peak at nearby brighter objects to line itself up within an arc minute of accuracy (1/60th of a degree). The telescope monitors itself for fluctuations in tracking (possibly caused by unstable air), its own mechanical motion, temperature and focus. At 10 minutes per object, it will take 41 years of Friday Nights until the telescope finally says in effect "Well, I've showed you everything I know about. Do you want me to ask the PC over there for more objects?" If we answer yes, we'll be at the eyepiece for a dozen millennia.

Our old telescope had exactly one speed - one revolution per day. Our new telescope has a wide range of speeds. We can go as slow as the Moon (one revolution every 25 hours or so) to as fast as a speedy satellite whizzing around in less than two hours. We can ask the telescope to arrange tours for us - such as show me all the beautiful deep space objects in and around the constellation Sagittarius.

We have accessories that filters out unwanted light (such as the yellow and blue glare of street lamps). We can heighten contrast of specific features of planets (looking for markings on Mars or the 700 mile per hurricane belts on Jupiter). We can photograph in visible and infrared light allowing us to pierce the dusty veils obscuring the center of our Milky Way.

Does this make us seem like proud parents? Certainly! We hope you'll visit us in August and September to see our new telescope strutting it stuff. Night comes earlier each day allowing kids to come to the Observatory and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. The most magnificent objects in the sky, the great gas giants, adorn the late Summer and early Fall sky this year. In mid August even Saturn, the last of these planets to rise, is high enough for viewing by 11:30. A month later all the gas giants will be up as soon as it gets dark. 700 MPH hurricane bands on Jupiter, the Galilean Moons, the Rings of Saturn, Titan with it dense atmosphere, the soft greens of Uranus and deep blues of Neptune are waiting for your inspection.

The Summer and Fall cornucopia of galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters is magnificent. We never know when a supernova may erupt or a comet may appear. The sky is beautiful. All you have to do is stop by Frosty Drew Observatory and become acquainted with our telescope.

Leslie Coleman
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Aug 1, 1999
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Columns
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