Butler astronomy faculty and students, who already have remote access to telescopes in Chile and Arizona, will be able to view the stars from a telescope off the Canary Islands beginning in 2015.
“It’s one of the best sites in the world to observe from,” said Brian Murphy, professor of physics and astronomy. “The atmosphere is very stable there, which means your stars are almost pinpoint. And that’s an important aspect. Add the large aperture of the scope with the atmospheric stability and that leads to some very good data.”
The telescope, situated at an altitude of 2,360 meters at the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, has sat idle since 2003. In late 2011, the Science and Technology Facilities Council of the United Kingdom announced the opportunity for interested parties to submit proposals to take over telescope operations.
SARA negotiated the rights to operate the telescope and secured funding from the National Science Foundation to convert the site to a remote observatory. In July 2013, the National Science Foundation gave SARA a $474,000 grant to complete the project.
Murphy said the telescope in the Canary Islands is slightly larger than the one in Butler’s Holcomb Observatory. Its location is at about the same latitude as the telescope in Arizona, but because it’s five hours later in the Canary Islands than it is in Indianapolis, Butler faculty and students will have access to the night sky while it’s relatively early at home.
Also, the Canary Islands site will be available year round to observe the Northern Hemisphere, while the Arizona facility shuts down for two months each summer during monsoon season.
Having remote access to telescopes on three different continents has paid dividends in scholarship, Murphy said. Five years into its partnership with SARA, Butler faculty and students have produced 35 publications in astronomy and astrophysics, with many of them listing students as first authors.
“So it’s been a success story for us,” he said.