Robodome sets phazers to "stunning"

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A welcome addition to UMD facilities

The UMDRoboDome, affectionately nicknamed "R2D2"
M82, a galaxy near the big dipper, taken through RoboDome

There’s a new telescope in town, and its name is RoboDome. Located atop MWAH and named for the white fiberglass enclosure that protects it from the elements, it is a welcome addition to the classes that use it, namely observational astronomy and astrophysics courses. “Before we had RoboDome,” says Howard Mooers, a professor in the department of Geology, “people had to use my telescope at home; it was nowhere near as convenient as this.”

Fully featured and ready to teach

The telescope is fully computerized, and features a suite of software with useful abilities. RoboDome’s catalog of astronomical points of interest, for example, holds a collection of different locations in the universe and can be set to target one in the press of a button.

Professor Mooers showed just how easy it was, opening the folder of different objects and scrolling through. “It can locate millions of different astronomical features; galaxies, planets, stars, nebulae; you name it, it can find it”.

A feature of RoboDome, which makes it appropriate for our campus, is that it may be operated from an indoor location with ease.

Able to be controlled up close as well as remotely, the telescope can be turned on, the dome opened, and the lens aimed at any location in the sky from the comfort of multiple places across campus, including Professor Mooer’s office; it even has functionality with the planetarium.

RoboDome gives the planetarium a fresh view

Live footage from the telescope has been projected in planetarium shows, and the high definition images have really enhanced the programs. “Occasionally, when students are done with their research, we’ll set RoboDome up so that the footage goes directly to the planetarium. We usually take footage of the moon, because it is so bright and close by. Images take mere seconds to develop, so they are flowing in constantly, making a kind of film. When taking images of darker things, or things that are light years away, it takes more time to develop, and pictures don’t come in as quickly.” Although the images take a few minutes to fully develop, they are of a very high quality. Multiple pictures, taken at the same time on different light and energy levels throughout the telescope, are overlaid on top of one another to bring out the final resolution. Mooers displays the completed image, a purple and pink sea of swirling dust and light, with a backdrop of dark space and dozens of stars.

A fancy machine with practical uses

While these images are interesting to look at, they also serve a practical purpose; photometry students, those who study the brightness of lights throughout the universe cast from objects like stars, can use this data to figure out what those stars are made of, making for valuable research into the composition of the universe around us.
            Astrometry students, those who study the location and orientation of objects in the night sky, such as asteroids or planets, also benefit greatly from this telescope and thus to benefit society; the goal of Astrometry is to determine the orbits of objects, allowing astrometry students to calculate the orbits of celestial bodies and tell if and when anything will (theoretically) impact earth.

Bringing the universe within reach

RoboDome will greatly improve the experience of astrophysics and astronomy students, and change the way we study the universe on campus. Bundled with remote capabilities and a tracking program, you won't need a spyglass to see the great things coming to UMD students as a result.

Written by Zach Lunderberg. Edited by Cheryl Reitan

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