Astronomer Ken Tapping looks over some of the electronics at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. Western News file photo

Star Gazing: Using a large telescope

Ken Tapping, astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory

Over the last two or three decades, the progress made in development of new astronomical instrumentation has been nothing short of stunning.

We can make bigger mirrors and antennas, more sensitive instruments, and far more powerful analysis techniques. We can put telescopes in space and observe cosmic emissions that were previously hidden from us.

For many years, front-line observatories have been beyond the reach of individual organizations, and are now funded as national projects or international collaborations. We therefore have to do our best to get the highest possible scientific productivity per funding dollar. Since science involves exploring the unknown, blind alleys are unavoidable, but we try hard to allocate observing time to scientifically valuable projects with a high probability of getting useful results. This also means connecting the instrument to as many prospective users as possible. The objective is to have the best connections between the biggest pool of scientific creativity and the instrumentation it needs to go forward.

International collaboration is important. Without it, doing similar research in different countries would require duplication of expensive technology. Instead, we make our instruments available to researchers in other countries and in return our researchers have access to their instruments. This means we can all make unique instruments, and have a much bigger research toolbox without wasting important and limited funds. It also means we have more contact with our international colleagues, so we have a far bigger forum to share ideas. So, you are working on a science problem and you are stuck. You need some data that is not available from other observatories or data sites like the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre. You need to make some observations, and need to apply to use a telescope. How do you do this?

These days you will probably go on the internet. Almost all observatories have websites, which list the available instruments and their capabilities. You find the observatory with the capability and instrumentation to make the observations you need, and then you download the application form. In this you identify yourself, give some background on your research and progress so far. You describe the problem and what sort of data you need, and what sort of observations you need to make. You need to do the best possible job in selling yourself, your work, and your research project. You then submit it, usually online. Working on your application might require some emailing to the observatory in order to better fit your needs to the available instruments.

Most observatories have a Time Allocation Committee (TAC), or something like that, which is responsible for getting the best productivity out of the instruments. They collect all the observing applications and send them to independent, impartial reviewers, usually scientists with relevant research interests who have no formal connection with the observatory. On the basis of the reviewersí reports, the TAC allocates the observing time, starting with the highest rated projects and working down the list until the time for that planning period is used up. So for many there will be disappointment. However, you’re lucky, so itís time to book some flights. There is nothing quite like having a huge telescope and its staff there just for you: exhilarating and scary.

At 3:07 a.m. on the June 21, the sun will reach the northernmost point in its yearly travels — the summer solstice: the day with the longest period of daylight. Venus shines brightly in the west after sunset. After dark, Jupiter dominates the southern sky and Saturn is rising in the southwest. Mars, getting brighter every night as it gets nearer to its closest to us on June 26, rises about 1 a.m. The moon will be full on June 27.

Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton

Just Posted

Christmas ghosts haunt Vernon’s Powerhouse Theatre

A Christmas Carol runs at Powerhouse Theatre Nov. 28 to Dec. 8

Vernon Vipers tie it up late, lose in shootout

The Vernon Vipers dropped their Sunday matinee to the visiting Victoria Grizzlies 6-5 in a shootout.

Vernon workshop ingites holiday spirit

Children’s Christmas Gift House is Dec. 8

North Okanagan Gleaners hard at work

Annual sock, mitten, toque campaign underway

Saving salmon: B.C. business man believes hatcheries can help bring back the fish

Tony Allard worked with a central coast First Nation to enhance salmon stocks

Kal Rotary fundraiser leads to wheelchair van purchase

The $39,000 awarded by Kalamalka Rotary was instrumental in securing the $56,000 needed.

Bankruptcies in British Columbia on the rise

Consumer bankruptcies climbed by 6. 1 per cent in August 2018 from the same month last year.

22 public toilets in Victoria: 136 people currently peeing

World Toilet Day floats some serious health issues

Calgary Stampeders back to Grey Cup with 22-14 win over Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Calgary was favoured to win the 2017 and 2016 Grey Cups, but lost to the Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa Redblacks respectively.

‘A giant step forward’: new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond to enter circulation

A new $10 banknote featuring Viola Desmond’s portrait will go into circulation, just over 72 years after she was ousted from the whites-only section of a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S.

Searchers in California wildfire step up efforts; 77 dead

Trump arrived at the oceanside conclave Saturday afternoon after visiting Northern California to survey the wildfire damage in the town of Paradise.

Trump says ‘no reason’ for him to hear Khashoggi death tape

“It’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape. I’ve been fully briefed on it, there’s no reason for me to hear it,” Trump said in the interview.

Canada Post calls for ‘cooling off’ period to allow for mediated talks

The proposal came as Canada Post workers continued their rotating strikes Monday after rejecting the Crown agency’s latest offer.

Most Read