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Faulkes Telescope North is situated on the island of Mauion Haleakala (Holly-ah-kah-lah), but Pfluke did not need to ascend the mountain to use the telescope. Dr. J. D. Armstrong, Maui Technology Education and Outreach Specialist for the Institute for Astronomy (a position 50% funded by LCOGT), brought the mountain to Pfluke and his classmates.
FTN is one of three telescopes that comprise the Robonetglobal network of large (2-meter) robotic telescopes. In existence since 2003, the Robonet project’s principal scientific aims are to detect cool extra-solar planets by optimized robotic monitoring of Galactic microlens events, and to determine the originand nature of Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) by providing rapid response and optimized robotic monitoring.
The three Robonet telescopes are the FTN located in Maui, the Faulkes Telescope South (FTS) in eastern Australia at Siding Springs, and the ‘Liverpool’ telescope on the Canary Island of La Palma. LCOGT owns and operates the two Faulkes telescopes.
While LCOGT is invested in the Robonet science aims, the company is also committed to providing educational opportunities for schools and learners of all ages. With Education Director Dr. Edward Gomez based in Cardiff, UK, and staff members in the UK and at LCOGT headquarters in Goleta, California, the program has developed tools and lessons for learning, using, and participating in astrophysics projects and observations.
Dr. Armstrong, located in Hawai’i, brings the experience into homes and classrooms across the island, making FTN a truly local resource. Stating that Dr. Armstrong “is an important guy,” Pfluke described the methodology used to make the observation time available. “When people take pictures on the Faulkes, they usually take them just from their laptop… they just click and the telescope will move over the object you want to image.”
The two Faulkes telescopes are in different hemispheres, allowing users to view the entire scope of astronomical objects that can be seen from Earth. The large size of the telescopes (2-meter primary mirrors) enables students and scientists to observe very faint objects. The proximity of the two telescopes in latitude means that night time observations for students located near the two telescopes must occur in night time hours. Students in the continental United States, the UK, and other geographical locations, can often schedule their observations during their classroom or daytime hours.
But resources are available at any time. LCOGT provides an extensive, searchable image archive from both educational and scientific observations, and a browseable image gallery.
In the near future, LCOGT will expand their global network to as many as eight sites around the globe, hosting three classes of telescope. The 2-meter Faulkes telescopes will remain in operation. In addition, there will be up to 16 1-meter telescopes and as many as 24 40cm telescopes. Each class of telescope supports an array of scientific explorations and projects,and will have time available for amateur and educational astrophysics use.
Because of the geographic spread of the telescopes, users will be able to make real-time observations in night skies at any time. The first installation of 1-meter and 40cm telescopes will take place in Cerro Tololo, Chile during 2011. LCOGT will soon be true to their slogan, We Keep You in the Dark.
The educational program wins converts wherever it touches down. In a letter dated August 6th, Mr. Pfluke’s assistant and mother, Anastasia Pfluke, wrote to Wayne Rosing, founder and president of LCOGT, that the “Faulkes time turned into one of the most special nights we’ve spent on Maui (and if you’ve ever been here, you know that’s saying a lot).”
Mr. Pfluke is continuing his research on the Faulkes telescopes. “I was researching an NEO, T38512, with Dr. J. D. Pan-STARRS discovered it very recently,” he wrote to Mr. Rosing. “I obviously couldn’t have done the research without the Faulkes.” NEO is insider terminology for Near-Earth Objects, typically comets and asteroids in orbits near the Earth. Pan-STARRS-1 is the Panoramic Survey Telescope & Rapid Response System, a program in which LCOGT is a half-partner with Harvard-Smithsonian.
However, T38512 remains unconfirmed. “We attempted to recover T38512 a couple of weeks ago,” Dr. Armstrong said, “but instead saw another asteroid. To the best of my knowledge T38512 was never recovered. It would have been Pan-STARRS second NEO. It was a long shot to try and catch it, but the payoff would have been well worth the investment. Since the asteroid that Anthony and I did see needs some follow-up observations, we are planning on doing that later this month.”
Published on Maui for a select distribution for several years now, The Pfluke Times is time-consuming to create – it is nearly all hand-written – and so is issued on an irregular schedule. Subscriptions are isolated to immediate family at this writing, however the firm is considering a transition to web publication in the near future.
Ms. Pfluke did note that the experience had a detrimental effect on play time for Mr. Pfluke. “On our second day working on that first Faulkes worksheet, the neighbor kids came to see if he could play, and he didn’t even ask me if he could go; he just told them he’d be out as soon as he was done. He wanted to finish his astronomy first.”
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