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Faulkes Telescope Project Update

by Paul Coleman, IfA Faulkes Telescope Project Scientist

Faulkes Telescope North. Photo by Paul Coleman.

The Faulkes Telescope on Haleakala is almost ready to give Hawaii students the kind of experiences that until now have been available only to professional astronomers.

The Faulkes Telescope Project in Hawaii is a joint effort of the Dill Faulkes Educational Trust and the IfA. Martin “Dill” Faulkes, a British scientist and software developer, founded the trust, which has financed two 2-meter telescopes—one in Hawaii and one in Australia. The world’s largest telescopes solely for education/public outreach, they are the culmination of Faulkes’ wish to give something back to the educational system that helped him become a success.

Hawaii’s children are about to benefit from that wish, thanks to the efforts of many at the IfA, particularly James Heasley, who shepherded the Haleakala telescope to its current state of near-completion.

NGC 2207

Image from the new Faulkes Telescope atop Haleakala: NGC 2207.

The Faulkes Telescope North, as the one on Haleakala is called, is completely robotic and controllable from remote locations such as class-rooms. Observations will be done in two modes: off-line and real-time. The off-line observing mode will allow users to request observations. The telescope will then observe the specified objects and send the data to the requestor over the Internet. Because of the time difference between the United Kingdom and Hawaii, schoolchildren in the U.K. will be able to make real-time optical observations from their classrooms by operating the telescope through a Web browser. This real-time mode will not be ideal for students in Hawaii, who will have to stay up late for nighttime observations. However, the IfA will donate an infrared camera to allow real-time infrared observations in daylight.

Since an article about the Faulkes Telescope appeared in our fall 2002 issue, many exciting things have happened. First, the clamshell robotic enclosure was built. Then the telescope was successfully reassembled on Haleakala by Telescope Technologies, Limited, the British company that built the telescope, and California-based Sea West Enterprises, which specializes in installing telescopes.

The electronics systems were installed in May 2003, and the telescope acquired its “first light” on the night of August 7. On December 22, it delivered an early Christmas present when it took its first three-color picture, of the galaxy NGC 2207, using the 2048x2048-pixel CCD camera.

NGC 453

Faulkes image of NGC 4535

In the months ahead, the control software will become operational and a few test observations will be made. An annual summer training program for teachers who would like to use this unique facility is in preparation.

If you are a teacher in Hawaii, register at our Web site to take advantage of this unique opportunity when it becomes fully available later this year. Go to http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/haleakala and click on the Faulkes image.