SMU's new high-tech telescope takes stargazing to new level
Published Wednesday, October 29, 2014 7:13PM ADT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 29, 2014 7:14PM ADT
A powerful new telescope that sits atop the Loyola residence at Saint Mary’s University is now the second largest on any university campus in Canada.
The telescope will be controllable effectively anywhere in the world by a remote and plans are underway to sync it to social media. That means the average Joe or Jane will be able to control it, to some degree, from home through Facebook and Twitter.
“The telescope will move to the object, take the picture, and send it back to them in a few minutes,” says Dave Lane, director of the Burke-Gaffney Observatory at Saint Mary’s University.
Lane hopes the telescope will appeal to young minds.
“If we can insert ourselves into their world, we will get them excited about science, math, and astronomy and make the universe real,” says Lane.
Developer Ralph Medjuck donated the money to purchase the telescope, replace the old one, and build a new observation deck below.
Medjuck admits he isn’t particularly interested in astronomy, but says he is passionate about the university’s future and its ability to attract bright young students.
The astronomy and physics department responded to the gift by naming the telescope in Medjuck’s honour.
Astronomy professor and Canada research chair Rob Thacker says the Medjuck Telescope can examine objects 2.5 billion light years away.
“Two-and-a-half billion years ago on Earth the only life form was simple bacteria. There was no plants, no higher forms of life at all,” says Thacker. “It’s like looking into a porthole into space.”
Lane says there is too much light pollution in Halifax to conduct certain types of cutting-edge research, but there is plenty to keep students busy.
“There are lots of projects that you can do, such as observation of variable stars, searching for supernovas, searching for things like asteroids or monitoring the exciting new field of extra-solar planets,” says Lane.
About a third of the people that come through the observatory have never looked through a telescope before.
“It's really a joy to show people the night sky. Young kids looking through the telescope and going ‘wow’ for the first time,” says Thacker.
The public can experience that thrill in person through public tours of the observatory, on the second and fourth Fridays of each month during the winter.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jayson Baxter