Facelift Allows Telescope to See More Clearly

Telescopes are more than stargazing equipment; they are the gateways to scientific discovery. Just ask Case Western Reserve University astronomer Paul Harding.

Facelift Allows Telescope to See More Clearly

He compares a telescope to a laboratory. It's not the physical space in a lab that leads to breakthroughs; it's the advanced equipment and creative thought within that makes history. The same is true with telescopes, Harding says. It's what inside that counts.

With this principle in mind, Harding and other scientists from Case Western Reserve set out to renovate the university's Burrell Schmidt telescope, breathing new life into the 69-year-old technology.

The team covered the telescope's filters and mirror with anti-reflection coating, installed a new camera and used refrigerator magnets, black velvet and metal baffles to limit light scattering."We've concentrated on what will give us the most science for the dollar," Harding says. "These upgrades have allowed the Schmidt to keep up with changing technology."

From its home at Kitt Peak National Observatory, near Tucson, Ariz., the reconditioned Schmidt is studying a cluster of galaxies in the constellation Virgo, about 60 million light years from Earth.

"By studying these stars, we learn how galaxy clusters have assembled and evolved over time," says Chris Mihos, PhD, chair of astronomy at Case Western Reserve. "The upgrades to the telescope have made it much better at detecting very faint starlight, which is exactly what we are looking for."