Purdy Mesa telescope joins the elite Air Force Falcon network

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) – When a satellite, an asteroid, or an old, dead rocket rages to Earth, a telescope on Purdy Mesa is ready to help detect it and alert officials from around the world.

Installers used a crane to carefully lift the 200-pound powerful equipment in his new home into the Grand Mesa Observatory, where it will be a gateway to the cosmos, which emerges under the dome at night. to watch.

The newest site that joins the Falcon telescope network of the US Air Force is located under the dark sky just east of Whitewater, away from light pollution and in an ideal location for researchers, students and monitoring room to get a clear picture from what's out there.

The Falcon network has three main objectives: to identify and identify man-made satellites, to help view and collect information about astronomical objects and to provide outreach and educational opportunities for students from kindergarten to universes at university level.

The American professor of physics professor Francis Chun supervised the installation of the 20-inch Oficina Stellare telescope in the dome of the observatory at the end of August, as with the other telescopes that have already been installed around the world.

The telescope is the 10th to be installed in the network, according to Chun. Five others have already been installed in Colorado: La Junta, Sterling, Durango, Woodland Park and Yoder. Penn State houses the remaining Falcon telescope in the US. There are two telescopes in Australia and one in Chile, and Chun said that the organizers plan at additional locations in Germany and South Africa. The first location was installed in 2013 at the Otero Junior College.

Having a network of telescopes, located on different continents at different hemispheres, helps those who view objects in space to gain multiple perspectives and gather more information about them, Chun said. Experts call this "multi-messenger observation" and the collected data can help students and researchers better understand the physics behind objects in space.

Having multiple locations in the network also offers protection against weather conditions, so the telescopes can not see the night sky. Although it may be rainy in Pennsylvania, chances are that Colorado will have clear conditions on a certain night.

The raw data collected by the telescopes on the Falcon network is intended for use by all partners in the network and although the telescopes are not for public use, the information they collect will be used both by the public and by the air force. .

In the scheme, the Air Force offers about $ 155,000 of equipment and the educational partners provide the building and infrastructure to house and protect the telescope and its accessories. The partners in this venture are the Colorado Mesa University and the Grand Mesa Observatory, which celebrated its anniversary this summer.

Acting Director Terry Hancock said he was willing to help with maintenance problems or troubleshooting problems with the telescope, but the Falcon network will work independently of the telescopes of the observatory that he manages. The installation of the telescope is about seven years in the making, when CMU Faculty of Physics searched for the best location and found the observatory at a height of 6,100 feet in a prime location far from city lights. CMU administrators agreed to pay $ 28,000 for the observatory and the dome of the Falcon telescope and will pay $ 2,400 per year to rent the area from the observers' founders, John and Vicki Mansur.

Although one of the goals of the network is to follow objects that travel close to the earth, the telescope installed at the observatory is strong enough to look far beyond the earth's orbit.

"It's powerful enough that you can detect things that happen in other galaxies," Chun said.

Anyone in the network can submit applications for certain objects that need to be captured using the telescopes around the world. This means that if a physics student of the CMU wishes to access data from a location that is only visible from the southern hemisphere at a particular time, the telescopes in Australia can be used for that purpose. The data is then sent directly to them, without any travel being required.

The Air Force follows roughly 22,000 objects in space, some of which measure only 10 centimeters, Chun said. Some of those objects are used satellites, old rocket bodies that have been thrown out of space missions or other junk that could eventually fall to Earth. These can also pose a danger to airmen, which is why the government keeps an eye on them.

The Air Force also follows approximately 1,200 active satellites, of which about half are domestic. The information collected through the Falcon Network telescopes can help viewers to detect the size, shape, materials and behavior of satellites, "and from this we can deduce the functionalities and capabilities of those satellites," Chun said.

Last year, students used information collected by the telescope in Chile to study two neutron stars that merged, Chun said. The network was able to collect data that measures the gravitational wave signals of this event so that students can use it for research.

Students can search for planets outside the Earth's solar system using the network of telescopes, study stars and supernova's and even follow asteroids orbiting around the earth, alongside other projects.

In the coming months local students and their teachers will be able to participate in the first light project of the Air Force. This project encourages classes to make proposals about what they think the newly installed telescope should see first and how they would use the collected information. The kick-off stimulates students to get involved in hands-on STEM research because they develop research ideas based on what can be viewed in the night sky from the Purdy Mesa location. The project requires students to submit a scientific proposal including the sky coordinates of the objects and the reasons why they feel that their idea should be chosen.


Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com

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