W.L. Eccles Observatory

by Kyle Dawson - Development Chairman

Thanks to the generous support of the W.L. Eccles Foundation and E.R. and E.W. Dumke Foundation, the Department of Physics and Astronomy finished the construction of the new Willard L. Eccles Telescope at Frisco Peak Observatory in October 2009. The significant investment in this new telescope has already started paying dividends; the department has made pristine observations of supernovae, gravitationally lensed quasars, and clusters of galaxies. Our faculty are thrilled that the quality of the data is superior to any other telescope of its size in the continental United States. These new images were used for student projects in a new course in observational astronomy taught by Prof. Kyle Dawson.

 

The department will continue to improve this new observatory during 2011. With the help of graduate and undergraduate students, the department is developing software to control this 32-inch telescope remotely from Salt Lake City. The ability to perform remote observations will allow us to conduct research from campus, continue to improve our course curriculum, and expand our popular nights of public star gazing on campus. These improvements are made possible thanks to a grant to Professors Kyle Dawson and Wayne Springer from the NASA Space Grant Consortium.

In order to access the telescope reliably and regularly, the department is grateful to the Larry Miller Foundation and W.L. Eccles Foundation who recently donated funds for the purchase of a 2008 Toyota Tundra pickup truck dedicated to Frisco Peak. Our faculty and students could not be happier now that they have access to this dedicated truck. Not only is the hassle of renting trucks avoided, but there is substantially less risk of getting a flat tire on the bumpy and rocky access road!

This project and our faculty’s leadership role in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a 5-year international collaboration of 250 scientists using a renowned observatory in New Mexico, have elevated the national reputation of our new astronomy program in short two years. In the same amount of time, the department’s astronomy faculty have hosted three major conferences which have attracted hundreds of top researchers from around the world. In particular, the number of attendees continues to grow for SNOWPAC, which will be held at the Snowbird Ski Resort in February of next year. Utah has quickly become a place where highly qualified astronomy faculty candidates are applying in record numbers.