The double domes of the Allan I. Carswell Observatory at York University have been in existence since 1968 and are two of the few, original metal domes left in the country. But what matters more is what’s housed inside of them.
In August 2019, some 4,400 pounds of equipment (slightly less than a white rhinoceros) was hoisted high into the air and then carefully lowered through the gaping mouth of the most easterly dome. That equipment, assembled onsite, is now the new one-metre telescope, replacing the Faculty of Science’s former 40-cm telescope.
And with it comes a universe of opportunity. Students can spend more time learning about the night skies and the mysteries of the cosmos, and less time searching for their object of study. Unlike with the previous telescope, with the new one, it takes minutes to plug in coordinates and direct it to a specific target. This provides students with a deeper experiential learning experience.
“This state-of-the-art, one-metre reflecting telescope will offer students unprecedented opportunities to explore and understand the night sky for their classes and research,” said physics and astronomy Professor Paul Delaney, the Carswell Chair for the Public Understanding of Astronomy.
The telescope also comes with top-notch technology, such as charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras, which maximizes the resolution and exposure times. Computer software processes and cleans up the images to reveal startling details, such as dust lanes and spiral arms. It also boasts a light collecting capacity of about six times more than the previous telescope. That translates into the ability to see more intimate details and a deeper dive into the universe and gives students experience with the latest in telescope and astrophotography technology.
Already, they have snapped dozens of photos of distant objects, such as the M76 nebula, also known as the little dumbbell nebula for its shape.
“Collecting more light allows us to see fainter objects,” said Delaney. “From the students’ perspective, who are taking our astronomy classes, we’re going to be able to give them more interesting projects and they’ll be able to look more deeply and with more significance at objects in our galaxy and well beyond our milky way to distant galaxies.”
Students can also get experiential education as they explain the celestial objects to the public during Wednesday viewing nights. About 5,000 people from the community walk through the observatory doors annually. The public also benefits from the more technologically advanced telescope as they are now seeing objects in greater detail, such as Jupiter’s red spot.
Thousands more join the observatory team Monday nights for the student- and faculty-hosted radio show “YorkUniverse” on astronomy.fm, where the public, from around the globe, can ask for the telescope to be pointed at a particular celestial target.
“We can now show them things we haven’t been able to show them before,” said Delaney.