Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, No. 7, April 12, 2013

Hirsch Observatory Telescope 


Hirsch Observatory Telescope Refurbished

The School of Science has refurbished the optics on a Boller and Chivens 16-inch Cassegrain telescope, which is the largest telescope in the Hirsch Observatory, on the roof of the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center. The telescope, which General Electric donated to Rensselaer in 1980, is used by observational astronomy students, by the Rensselaer Astrophysical Society (RAS), and during public viewing sessions offered by the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy and the RAS.

The refurbishment, which included improvements to the surface of the mirrors and minor structural changes, should result in a clearer, brighter picture, said Heidi Newberg, professor of physics, applied physics, and astronomy.

“The mirrors are made of glass with a thin layer of aluminum on top of the glass topped by a protective coating. The mirror is pointing up and, over time, dust falls onto the mirror and accumulates, and the coating deteriorates,” Newberg said.
Children’s Night at the Hirsch Observatory April 19 *
The Rensselaer Astrophysical Society and Hirsch Observatory are inviting area children to a special night of “observing, activities, and astronaut ice cream” designed specifically for young people.

The event will be held on Friday, April 19, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Hirsch Observatory, located on top of the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center. (Rain date is Saturday April 20, 7-10 p.m.)

In addition to general deterioration, the original design of the mirror housing and mounts made it very difficult to adjust and the mirrors themselves have been misaligned since the last time the mirrors were “re-aluminized,” about 20 years ago. Newberg said the misalignment caused some distortion of the image.

The contractor who repaired the telescope, Peter Mack of Astronomical Consultants and Equipment, made minor structural changes to the mirror housing and mounts that corrected the issue and will make it much easier to remove and remount the mirrors and align them properly. The net effect should be a noticeable improvement.

“We’re hoping that everything will be much sharper,” Newberg said. “We’ll see details and features that are closer together than we could before.”

The Rensselaer Astrophysical Society  is a Rensselaer Union-funded organization that allows students to pursue their interest in astronomy. The society works in conjunction with the physics department to maintain the Hirsch Observatory atop the Science Center and keep it open to the public on a regular basis. Students are trained in the use of the Society’s various telescopes, then placed on the observatory key list. Once on the key list, members can use the observatory at any time.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, Number 7, April 12, 2013
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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