Research and Teaching Telescopes

24 inch PlaneWave Telescope

Installed in 2020, the 24-inch PlaneWave telescope has become the workhorse for the department's on-site teaching and research observing. Thanks to the hard work of dedicated students, the telescope operates robotically when not in use for labs or public observing, conducting queue-based observations for research projects designed by students and faculty. With its total automation, the telescope provides a local analog to the observing method used by the largest optical telescopes in the world, while also providing an excellent instrument for time-domain studies. The telescope is equipped with an instrument selector with a CCD and filter wheel, an eyepiece for visual observing, and a high-speed camera for planetary imaging. Current projects include exoplanet observations led by Professor Redfield, AGN monitoring by Professor Moran, and black hole transient follow-up by Professor Kilgard.

24 inch Perkin Telescope

Manufactured for Mr. Richard S. Perkin in 1966 by Boller and Chivens, a subsidiary of the Perkin-Elmer Corporation, this telescope was donated to Wesleyan in 1971 by the Perkin family. The Perkin Reflector has a primary mirror 24 inches in diameter and a focal length of 27 feet. Grants from the Perkin Fund, Research Corporation and the National Science Foundation helped automate and equip the telescope. A CCD detector for recording images digitally was obtained in 1991 through a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation. A newer CCD camera was obtained and installed in 2007, and the telescope was equipped with an auto-guider in 2012. The Perkin telescope was used for many decades for departmental research, including many senior and graduate student theses, for studying variable stars known as T Tauri stars in a program directed by Professor Herbst and for studying extrasolar planet transits in a program directed by Professor Redfield. It has since been retired as the main research instrument but will experience a new life as a teaching telescope.

20 inch Alvan Clark Great Refractor

When the current observatory building was dedicated in 1916 this telescope was supposed to be installed; however, the glass blanks for the lenses had been ordered from a German manufacturer, and war slowed their delivery considerably. Happily, when they did finally arrive at the Alvan Clark company for grinding, the glass quality was found to be very high across the whole disk, allowing a 20" aperture rather than the 18.5 inches that had been ordered. The telescope was installed in the observatory in 1922, and has a focal length of 27' 6". The initial research program pursued on the 20" refractor, by then-observatory director, Frederick Slocum, was "the determination of the distances to the stars." The refractor underwent extensive restoration in 2014-15, and is now used for outreach and student observing.

2.4 meter Radio Telescope

This telescope was built by Wesleyan students in 2013, based on the design for the Small Radio Telescope (SRT) developed at Haystack Observatory. The instrument is used primarily by the students as a learning tool, to study the motions of neutral hydrogen gas in the Milky Way and radio-wavelength emission from the Sun.

Portable Telescopes

The department has a suite of portable telescopes for use in labs and public events. All are equpped with portable tripods and are used outside the observatory building to share views of the sky with students and residents in the Middletown area. We also have dedicated solar telescopes for daytime observation.

Computing resources

Students have use of our computer lab in the department to assist in their research and class work. We maintain a network of macOS and Linux workstations in this lab and in locations throughout the observatory. A range of research software including Python, IRAF/PyRAF, IDL, CIAO, and many programming languages are supported on these machines as well as popular desktop tools such as Adobe Creative Suite, MS Office, and various desktop planetarium programs. Wesleyan operates and supports a supercomputing cluster for research in Astronomy, Physics, and Chemistry.