WKU receives grant for new telescope

Photo courtesy of WKU News.

Photo courtesy of WKU News.

Michael Crimmins, News reporter

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie (KY-02) announced on Tuesday, Aug. 31, that WKU has received a grant to replace their old Bell Observatory telescope with a new model.

The $312,294 grant from the National Science Foundation will also help update of the control systems at the observatory. 

Late last year, a collaboration of astronomers across Kentucky submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation to replace the telescope with a more modern one, which was awarded recently.

“This project will expand our capabilities in both engaged student scholarly activity and undergraduate astronomy education,” Michael Carini, chair of WKU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and director of the Bell Observatory, said in a WKU News press release.

The university’s current telescope is 24 inches long and was purchased in the 1970s. The new model will be 28 inches, more precise model that will be installed in the Bell Observatory on the outskirts of Bowling Green.

According to the Bell Observatory website, it is primarily student runned and operates most clear nights and is constantly acquiring new information for members of the astronomy department. Carini said this new equipment will enhance the curriculum of the astronomy department. 

This upgrade will not only be available to WKU students, Carini hopes that it will provide hands-on experiences to both WKU students and students throughout Kentucky.

“The new instrument will be used by students and faculty from WKU and across Kentucky to study supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies; deepen our understanding of the structure of our own Milky Way Galaxy; study specific classes of binary star systems that provide direct measurements of star masses and sizes; and determine if stars that may host extrasolar planets actually do or are instead two stars closely orbiting each other,” Carini said. 

The observatory opened in 1987 on land donated by Charles Bell, except for a NASA grant in 1999, the hardware inside the observatory has not been updated which Carini believes is an issue for both faculty and students alike.

“As the system aged, the need for a replacement became critical,” Carini said. “At the same time, the need for access to a local facility for students pursuing astronomical research at all Kentucky schools of higher education became apparent.”

Guthrie said on his website that this new telescope will be the most widely accessible and biggest telescope in the commonwealth. 

“I’m excited for students and all Kentuckians that will have the chance to do research with this modern telescope and control system,” Guthrie said in an interview. 

News reporter Michael Crimmins can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @michael_crimm