New Armagh Telescope Sees First Light

Click on an image for the full size version
Andromeda Nebula

A colour composite photograph of the central bulge of the Andromeda nebula,
a spiral galaxy some million light years away, made by combining images
taken in red, green, blue and white light. The image was obtained on Tuesday
1st February using the Armagh Robotic Telescope at the Armagh Observatory.

Pleiades Cluster

A colour composite photograph of part of the Pleiades star cluster, at a
distance of 440 light years, made by combining images taken in red, green,
blue and white light. The five brightest stars are visible to the naked eye;
their light can be seen reflected from the particles in a cloud of gas and dust
into which the cluster has drifted. The faintest star visible in this image is
magnitude 15.3, nearly 100,000 times fainter than the brightest star, Alcyone.
The image was obtained on Tuesday 1st February using the Armagh Robotic
Telescope at the Armagh Observatory.

Plane Wave Telescope

Photograph of the Armagh Robotic Telescope in its dome. Installed in October 2010,
the telescope will be used for observations of variable stars, solar-system objects
and other targets. All components can be remotely controlled, with a view to achieving
fully autonomous operation. Image credit: Simon Jeffery.

Astronomers Simon Jeffery and Jack Wright have obtained their first images of deep-space objects using a new “robotic” telescope at Armagh Observatory. The new telescope, funded with support from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, is the first major new telescope to be installed at the Observatory for nearly a hundred years. The astronomers used the telescope on the 1st February to record images of the Andromeda galaxy, the Pleiades, and other nebulae and star clusters, and to demonstrate that all major telescope systems are operating as designed

The new telescope has a 43-cm (17-inch) primary mirror and a 16-Megapixel CCD camera. It is housed in a compact new dome to the south of the main Observatory building. Its installation complements the Observatory’s existing Polar Bear and Meteor Patrol cameras, which are already automatically gathering data whenever the sky is clear, as well as the much older telescopes and telescope domes.

Simon Jeffery, project scientist for the new telescope, said: "After two years of hard work, it is very satisfying to see the first images looking so good. Seeing the core of the Andromeda galaxy spread right across our first frame was immensely rewarding. We still have a lot of work to do, but we can eagerly anticipate exciting science coming from the Armagh skies."

Although not quite the largest telescope in Armagh (the mirror of the 1883 Calver telescope is slightly larger), it is by far the most powerful because of its modern optics and sensitive camera. Moreover, it can be operated entirely from a computer, either by an astronomer working from a desk a few metres away or fully automatically. These features optimise the number of clear nights when it can be used. The number of usable hours of observing at Armagh corresponds to a surprisingly large average of one night in three, provided the astronomer can use gaps between the clouds and light pollution from city lights is kept to a minimum.

The telescope will be used for research in solar-system science and stellar and Galactic astrophysics. Mark Bailey, the Director of the Observatory, said: "This is an important development in the Observatory’s research capability. Ten years ago it would hardly have been possible to make research-quality observations from Armagh, but now, with fast, modern computers and highly sensitive CCD cameras, and the prospect in sight of fully autonomous operation, we look forward to bringing more astronomical observing back to Armagh."

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Simon Jeffery or John McFarland at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG. Tel.: 028-3752-2928 or 075-4515-1764; FAX: 028-3752-7174;
csjat signarm.ac.uk or jmfat signarm.ac.uk.

Last Revised: 2011 February 4th