W.L. Eccles Observatory Sees First Light

First images being viewed by Willard L. Eccles Observatory at Frisco Peak.

The new Willard L. Eccles Observatory’s 32” reflecting telescope took its first pictures the night of Oct. 15, 2009. The new observatory, with telescope built by DFM Engineering, is located at an elevation of about 9,600 feet on Frisco Peak, near Milford, Utah. The university announced plans for the telescope in 2006, and Associate Professor Wayne Springer says he is “relieved, excited and exuberant” that it has started observing the sky.

 

To celebrate the initial operation of its new $860,000 research observatory, the department held a “first light” celebration, on Nov. 11, which included a symposium and reception in the James Fletcher Building. During the symposium, Department Chair and Professor Dave Kieda summarized efforts to build the university’s new astronomy program. Springer discussed the observatory’s status and its first results. Assistant Professor Kyle Dawson discussed the department’s involvement in an international observing project known as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-III, particularly a portion of the program that will study the mysterious “dark energy” believed to make up 73% of the universe. College of Science dean Pierre Sokolsky, discussed how private donors have helped the department’s efforts. Springer says sources of the observatory’s funding included $600,000 from the Willard L. Eccles Foundation, $160,000 from the Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Foundation, $40,000 from the University and another $60,000 yet to be raised.


The “first light” photo is an edge-on view of the spiral galaxy NGC 891, said Wayne Springer, who heads the project

Springer is also applying for a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation so the telescope can be operated remotely from campus, 250 miles away. He hopes this will be achieved by the end of summer 2010. “I’m very excited about the possibilities with an observatory located on a mountaintop in a region with dark skies,” he says. “We will certainly utilize the facility for education of students and for public outreach opportunities,” including star parties in Salt Lake City that will use the telescope by remote control.


(From left) Wayne Springer, Dave Kieda, & Steve Denkers at the Ground Breaking Ceremony on July 16.