Lick Observatory Receives Much Needed Technological Update

 

lick observatoryAs part of a funding arrangement made by Google, the Lick observatory in Santa Monica is receiving some much needed technological upgrades.  The observatory was in bad need of the additional funding to help close gaps in it’s staffing during operating hours.  Here’s a brief excerpt from Space.com

Managers anticipate using the money immediately for two things: stopping occasional closures of the Shane 3-meter telescope due to staff shortages, and developing adaptive optics used to improve telescope imaging. [The World’s Largest Telescopes]

Two years ago, the university threatened to cut off funding in 2018 amid overall budget cuts. It reversed that decision late last year, but said it would reduce the allocation it gives to the observatory.

The new grant will temporarily boost Lick’s budget to $2 million annually, which is still below the $2.5 million it used to receive from the university. Filippenko said the money would buy time for the observatory to look for more money, which he is hoping will come in the form of a $50 million endowment. Interest from the endowment would go towards annual operating funds.

The observatory was established in 1888 and has seven telescopes at its Mt. Hamilton facility near San Jose. These telescopes perform a wide variety of science observations, from studying supernovas to searching for alien planets. Their modest size allows for researchers to do repeat observations, Lick officials added, because larger telescopes have tighter time allocations due to the popularity of observing requests.

Prominent work at Lick includes discovering most of the first 100 exoplanets, finding black holes embedded in galaxies, and discovering or studying supernovae that were later used to show that the universe’s expansion was accelerating.

The telescopes have also been used to test technologies. One example is adaptive optics, a technology that uses lasers to adjust a telescope mirror to account for turbulence in the atmosphere. This allows for sharper images of stars, galaxies and other objects.

Separately, Lick recently received $350,000 to upgrade a spectrograph on its three-meter telescope. The change will make it easier to examine supernovae and other distant objects, Lick officials said. Those funds came from the Heising-Simons Foundation and donors Bill and Marina Kast.

In addition some of the funding will go towards better display technology such as 4K displays that enable astronomers to see in much greater detail the objects of their study.  High resolution video has helped bring about a wide range of new discoveries in recent years.

As part of a collaborative effort, Audio Video Experts supplied all of the necessary man-power to get the new displays up and running for the observatory.  Jeff Harrison, the owner of AVE, said that “Space and astronomy have long been a passion of mine and it feels good to be able to contribute to this cause.”

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Using 4k Projectors for Stunning Hubble Imagery

IDL TIFF file

The latest projector technology is ideally suited for displaying the high resolution imagery from the Hubble space telescope.  While HDTV’s are capable of rendering 1920 by 1080 lines of resolution, the extremely high resolution capabilities of the Hubble camera was beyond even these displays.  The newer 4k projectors are capable of displaying twice as much information and have been of crucial help to in depth analysis of some of Hubble’s more amazing images.

Higher Resolution Means More Detail

While there is some debate as to whether or not the home entertainment and movie industry is fully utilizing the capabilities of current 4K projectors, the same cannot be said for the scientific industry.  The ability to display extremely high resolution images onto larger screens without losing clarity is crucial to analyzing images that previously had to be viewed using zoom technologies that could distort the image.

Distortions cause mistakes in charting and grkaphigin of celestial bodies.  This can affect theories and tests that are being performed based on the data provided in these images.  Tests such as the one performed for Einstein’s theory of relativity in the early 1900’s rely upon extremely accurate measurements.

Breathtaking Detail

In addition to being accurate for scientific measurements, the display of 4000 lines of resolution is absolutely breathtaking when seen in person. The Hubble images are impressive on a computer screen, but become almost overwhelming when seen on a large projection screen.  The image quality creates an almost 3D effect that tricks the mind into thinking you are inside the image itself.

While these projectors are being hailed as great for the consumer electronics industry, they are also proving to be very valuable to the scientific community as well.

 

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