TEL5 13meter Robotically Controlled telescope

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The 1.3-meter telescope that is attached to the administration building is now run by the RCT Consortium of Western Kentucky University, the Planetary Science Institute (based in Tucson), South Carolina State University, 1

Villanova University, and flltf^ Francis Marion University. It has had an interesting history, which you can read more about at www.psi. edu/rct/index.html.

This telescope was first installed on Kitt Peak in 1965, as an engineering testbed for future remotely controlled telescopes. At that time, orbiting space telescopes were already being envisioned and these would of course need to be remotely controlled, so some experience on the ground seemed to be a good idea. The remote control location was the Tucson headquarters of KPNO, unlike other test telescopes which generally were controlled from a laboratory next door. The facility provided useful insights despite the

Kitt Being Installed

Inside the dome of the RCT, which has a distinctive purple mount. Photo by Gilbert Esquerdo.

limitations of the computers and telephone lines of the day. Significant problems arose, however, when it was converted from an engineering test telescope to an operating astronomical telescope with general users.

In 1969 the 1.3-meter telescope was converted to manual operation and the present mirror installed (the first mirror was spun aluminum). It operated very successfully until 1995 as an optical and - particularly in the later years - near-infrared telescope, when it was closed because of budget constraints at NOAO. Throughout its history it served not only as a general observing telescope, but also continued its role as a testbed; many of the early infrared instruments for the 2.1-meter and 4-meter telescopes were first tested on the 1.3-meter.

After being refurbished over a period of about 2 years by the RCT Consortium, the telescope began science observations again in 2002. It is being used to search for extra-solar planets, of which more than 100 are now known (see http://www.obspm.fr/ encycl/encycl.html), and for the optical counterparts to gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), which are the most energetic explosions in the Universe (see below, under Super-LOTIS, for an extended discussion of GRBs). A considerable amount of the observing time at the telescope will be devoted to monitoring the variability of active galactic nuclei (AGN), which are massive black holes at the centers of galaxies. As gas surrounding a black hole falls into it, the gas gets very hot and therefore shines brightly. Variations in the brightness of the gas give astronomers clues about the infall process.

Observations at the 1.3-meter RCT are done in a very interesting way. Astronomers in the consortium send e-mail requests to the telescope, where automated scheduling software arranges the requests in a logical way, and then performs the observations without human intervention. At the end of the night each astronomer whose observations were done will get their data over the internet. While remotely controlled observations also are possible, most of the time the telescope is used in the fully automatic mode.

Although the telescope's location in the building makes viewing it from outside impossible, it is hoped that soon it will be included at least occasionally in special tours run by the KPNO Visitor Center.

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