My First Telescope

Last night I went to my local astronomy club meeting and came home with something I’ve been meaning to get since I was about 5 years old. Behold, my own personal time machine:

Look what Santa brought me!
Look what Santa brought me!

My amateur astronomer friends will recognize this as a classic – a Celestron 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.  I’m told it’s a 1990’s model and it will need some TLC to be sure, but I’ve already had a look at the Moon, Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, and Venus without any major problems.

I came to owning this completely by accident. When I arrived at the meeting, there were several small telescopes and tripods set up. It turns out that a friend of one of our club members is an antique collector and happened to have some telescopes in his rather large collection of…stuff. He told our club that he’d be happy with whatever he could get and wasn’t interested in selling it online. And so, with the recommendation of my fellow club members who know a lot more about amateur telescopes than I ever will, I snagged this for a hundred bucks.

I’ll post some more pics and tell a little bit more about my progress with the telescope in future posts. I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot as I wade through the money pit that is amateur astronomy, but for now I’m pretty happy to finally come through for 5-year old me.

First light in the hunt for Dark Energy

Dark Energy is a bit of a problem in Cosmology. It makes up 75% of the universe, it’s speeding up the expansion of the universe, and we don’t have any idea what it is.

In order to get a handle on what Dark Energy really is, we need to get a detailed survey of phenomena such as:

…over a wide swath of the sky at an unprecedented level of detail. The Dark Energy Camera, built at Fermilab, is designed to do just that. Armed with 62 CCDs, the camera takes images at a whopping 572 megapixels! When mated to the large 4-meter Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile, the camera becomes an ultra high-resolution sky-grabber:
Small Megellanic Cloud imaged by the Dark Energy Camera

That’s the Small Magellanic Cloud – a small satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way about 200,000 light years away. Of course, the SMC has been imaged in its entirety before, but not to such a high resolution in a single image.

Over the next five years, the camera will create detailed images of one-eighth of the southern sky. One-eighth might not seem like a whole lot, but that’s 5,000 square degrees – enough to discover 300 million galaxies, measure 100,000 galaxy clusters, and detect 4,000 supernovae. Suffice to say, that is a lot of data, and astronomers are going to need it if they are going to get a better handle on what Dark Energy is. After all, if we cannot see it, we have to look at the universe on a very large scale if we’re going to be able to measure its effects on the stuff we can see.

So, the Dark Energy Camera is locked and loaded at the prime focus of the Blanco telescope. just about ready to begin its investigation into something that makes up the overwhelming majority of the universe that we didn’t even know about until 15 years ago. I can’t wait to see what we learn.

Credit: Dark Energy Survey Collaboration.