UVA Wise Observatory represents one of the best science resources that our college has. Located in the upper, northeastern part of our beautiful campus, the new observatory offers an amazing opportunity to students, school groups, families and interested local citizens to see the wonders of the universe through the perspective of a telescope.
Telescopes are not just “buckets” that collect light, offering brighter images of celestial objects, but they are also “time machines”, allowing observers to see distant sources of light, as they were hundreds or hundreds of millions of years ago. With the decommissioning of the old telescope as part of the Science Center renovation, a decision was made to build a stand-alone observatory on a darker part of the campus. Building a new observatory allowed us to install a 40 cm diameter, Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The new telescope was installed and became operational in early 2012.
The observatory features a dome housing the main telescope, an observation platform equipped with six piers for mounting smaller telescopes, and a single-story, three-room storage building. The observation deck can be illuminated by two different sets of low exterior bollard light fixtures, some white, some red. The building complex has no connection to the utility grid and operates totally from a battery bank that is re-charged by a solar array. No current water or bathrooms are available on the site.
Telescopes & Instruments
The Primary Telescope
The main telescope of the observatory is the 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain- Meade's LX200 Advanced Coma-Free (ACF) optics telescope, mounted on a permanent equatorial pier (that was custom-manufactured to match the latitude of the observing site).
The telescope has a focal ratio of f/10 (indicating the “speed” of the telescope’s optics), a mirror with the diameter of 406.4 mm (16"), and with a focal length of 4,064 mm. The resolving power (or the angular resolution) is 0.285 arcseconds.
The magnification and field of view (FOV) can be calculated in function of the attached eyepiece. Below are presented examples of these values as function of some of the commonly used eyepieces. For comparison, Moon’s angular diameter is about half of a degree.
A precise alignment of the telescope is assisted by a GPS receiver, which inputs the correct time, date and geographical location. Through the AutoAlign feature, the telescope chooses two alignment stars, allowing the user to fine tune the positioning of those stars in the center of the FOV, for an accurate lining up of the telescope. The command of the instrument is performed with the assistance of the AutoStar controller; this system allows a convenient tour of the Cosmos with just a push of a key, featuring access to a 145,000 celestial objects database.
Six Schmidt-Cassegrain 8” portable telescopes are primary used for the student observation laboratories, as valuable teaching tools. These telescopes use as support heavy-duty fork type mountings and are installed at the time of the stargazing on the observation platform. The 8” telescopes have a focal ratio of f/10, main mirrors with the diameter of 203 mm (8"), and with a focal length of 2,000 mm. The resolving power (or the angular resolution) is 0.570 arcseconds.
ST-7XE Santa Barbara Instrument Group CCD Camera
The camera has two CCDs inside, one for guiding and a large one for imaging. The low noise of the read out electronics virtually guarantees that a usable guide star will be within the field of the guiding CCD for telescopes with F/numbers F/6.3 or faster. ST-7XE can take hour long guided exposures with ease, with no differential deflection of guide scope relative to main telescope, and no radial guider setup hassles, all from the computer keyboard. This capability, coupled with the phenomenal sensitivity of the CCD, allows the user to acquire observatory class images of deep sky images with modest apertures.
Santa Barbara Instrument Group Self-Guided Spectrograph (SGS)
The self-guided spectrograph has been optimized to capture stellar spectra with high resolution, but has enough sensitivity and flexibility to allow its use on brighter galaxies and emission nebula. This unit is a scientific instrument that is capable to obtain a good spectrum of an object, although it requires significant care and effort.
The spectrograph is designed to operate with the ST-7/8/9 CCD cameras. The object that is to be analyzed is viewed on the tracking CCD, simultaneously with the slit. The slit is backlit by an LED during object acquisition to render it clearly visible on the tracking CCD. The object is manually maneuvered onto the slit using the telescope controls, and is held there using our patented self guiding feature during a long exposure. The spectra is recorded by the imaging CCD, oriented long-ways so the spectra falls across 765 pixels, with a height of about 8 pixels for stellar sources.
Directions to the Observatory site: from the upper commuter parking lot (north side) take a right on the road leading to the intramural field, then follow the road for about 1/3 of a mile to the observatory. The Observatory is location #37 on the campus map.