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UW Joins Astrophysical Research Consortium to Access Apache Point Observatory

September 27, 2016
observatory on a hill
The University of Wyoming recently became a member of the Astrophysical Research Consortium. As a result, UW will have research access to the telescopes housed at Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, N.M. (Astrophysical Research Consortium Photo)

The University of Wyoming recently joined a select list that includes only six other universities.

UW became a member of the Astrophysical Research Consortium (ARC), which owns and manages the Apache Point Observatory, located in Sunspot, N.M. ARC includes three research telescopes: the 3.5m Telescope, the 2.5m Sloan Foundation Telescope and the 0.5m Small Aperture Telescope (ARCSAT). ARC also hosts New Mexico State University's 1.0m Telescope.

“Though we are fortunate to have our own research-quality observatory in our 2.3-meter telescope on Jelm Mountain, having additional access to a 3.5-meter telescope opens up additional opportunities,” says Danny Dale, a UW professor and head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “A larger telescope allows us to capture more light, which in turn allows us to see fainter objects -- planets, stars and galaxies.”

Additionally, Dale says there are instruments on the Apache Point telescope that UW doesn’t have on its Jelm Mountain telescope. For example, the suite of spectrometers at Apache Point allows different physical conditions to be studied in astronomical objects. Also, some of the Apache Point instruments probe to longer wavelengths, which helps minimize the obscuration caused by interstellar dust particles.

“One possibility: It will be easier to search for exoplanets, planets that orbit other stars outside of our own solar system,” Dale says.

Other members of the Astrophysical Research Consortium are the University of Washington, New Mexico State, the University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia and Georgia State University.

Dale says he and Chip Kobulnicky, a UW professor of physics and astronomy, both serve on the UW Science Initiative Leadership Team. The two have conducted the background work to bring this membership to fruition. The two discussed the opportunity to colleagues on the leadership team; brought external experts to campus to speak with campus leadership about the issues involved; and discussed UW becoming a consortium member.

“Being part of a consortium naturally opens up new collaborative possibilities, both scientifically and technically,” Dale says.

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