Sonoma State Launches Global Telescope Network With California Academy
State University is about to peer farther into the depths of the Universe.
Partnering with the California Academy of Sciences, the NASA Education
and Public Outreach Group at Sonoma State University has completed construction
of a new astronomical observatory.
The telescope will observe distant galaxies, super-magnetic dead stars,
and possibly the largest explosions in the known Universe: gamma-ray bursts.
The telescopic observatory is located at the Pepperwood preserve in Sonoma
County, a few miles northeast of Windsor.
While SSU has had an astronomical observatory on-campus since 1976, this
new facility is more powerful, is beyond most of the coastal fog, and
is in a very dark location in the county far removed from major artificial
The grounds are already home to the Academy’s Hume Observatory, which
houses three telescopes. Bing F. Quock, Acting Chairman of the Academy’s
Morrison Planetarium, said “The Academy is delighted to be involved in
this exciting project by providing the location for the SSU telescope.
It adds a direct connection to major astronomical research to our activities
and helps further the Academy's mission of exploring and explaining the
natural world, which, of course, includes the rest of the Universe.”
The SSU telescope, which has a 14” mirror and sensitive electronic detector,
is operated remotely, using computer controls, while the astronomer can
be sitting miles or even thousands of miles away. Professor Lynn Cominsky,
director of the SSU outreach group, said “This telescope puts SSU and
the California Academy of Sciences on the cutting edge of astronomical
science. Robotic telescopes are changing the way we do astronomy.”
The telescope was funded through the Gamma-Ray Large Area Space Telescope,
or GLAST, a joint NASA/DOE observatory which will launch in 2007. GLAST
will observe high-energy radiation from black holes, including enormous
black holes found in the cores of galaxies. Ground-based telescopes are
needed to monitor the light coming from these galaxies, to help astronomers
better understand these exotic phenomena.
“By observing galaxies at different energies—different kinds of light,
like optical, gamma-ray, and X-ray—we can better understand the underlying
physics of these galaxies. Even relatively small telescopes like ours
can provide important data, critical data,” Cominsky added.
The SSU Pepperwood observatory – nicknamed GORT, for the GLAST Optical
Robotic Telescope—is the flagship of a network of robotic telescopes located
across the country, and eventually the entire Earth. These telescopes
will form the Global Telescope Network, able to observe objects all across
the sky. This 24-hour coverage will enable astronomers to catch every
flash and dip in the light from distant galaxies.
“As gas, dust, and even whole stars fall into black holes, they emit tremendous
bursts of light; more than the Sun emits in a million years. Globally
distributed small telescopic observatories allow us to measure these bursts
with unprecedented coverage, and we’re poised to learn a lot about these
weird objects,” commented Gordon Spear, the SSU Observatory Director.
Spear, along with SSU alumnus and outreach group Instructional Technology
Consultant Tim Graves, are responsible for the construction, testing,
and use of the telescopic observatory. Spear added, “Even better, the
telescopes are robotic, so they do all the work for us. It’s a great way
to hugely increase the data we get.”
The SSU telescope will start observing the heavens later this month. Currently,
the telescope runs automated scripts which are uploaded to it every night,
and plans are to have it run fully robotically by the end of the year.
Members of the public (especially high school students) are invited to
submit observing proposals to use the GLAST Optical Robotic Telescope
(GORT) through the Global Telescope Network. To join the GTN and to learn
more about it, see http://gtn.sonoma.edu. Robotic observations using GORT
will begin in the fall.
For further information, contact Professor Lynn Cominsky, email@example.com,
The media is invited to a special "first light" celebration of the telescope
network beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 24 at the Pepperwood preserve.
All 23 of the NASA Educator Ambassadors will be in attendance as well
as other NASA and local representatives. If you plan to attend the celebration,
please advise Jean Wasp, Media Relations Coordinator, (707) 664-2057.
CAPTION: New SSU Observatory, called GORT, will help monitor deep space
mysteries through a network that operates the equipment robotically.