Barry McNamara  |   Published August 18, 2015

Monmouth College welcomes massive research-grade telescope

  • The Trubeck Telescope is housed in the Adolphson Observatory on the roof of the Center for Science and Business.
Monmouth College’s Adolphson Observatory is now home to one of the most powerful telescopes on a college campus, thanks to a gift from William Trubeck ’68.

Installation of the PlaneWave Instruments CDK20 telescope was recently completed in the observatory, which sits atop the college’s new Center for Science and Business. The 20-inch Corrected Dall-Kirkham (CDK) Astrograph telescope “is an observatory-class instrument,” said Monmouth physics professor Chris Fasano, “which is highly uncommon for undergraduate students to have access to.”

About twice as bright and with the similar magnifying power, the Trubeck Telescope compares well with the 20-inch reflector telescope at the venerable Doane Observatory at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. Adaptive optics on its camera – which are not conceptually different from the Keck telescopes in Hawaii – will make it even more powerful than comparable 20-inch telescopes. Also, it will be viewing much darker skies in western Illinois, literally opening up a new world for Monmouth’s students and making it possible for them to discover asteroids, comets and other astronomical objects.

For example, said Ashwani Kumar, another member of the college’s physics faculty, Monmouth intends to apply to the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union at Harvard University and receive a permanent observatory code to report and share observations related to asteroids, comets and other small natural objects in our solar system with the rest of the world. Such observations were part of a Summer Opportunities for Intellectual Activities (SOFIA) students research project that Kumar led in August.

The Trubeck Telescope can gather about 10,000 times more light than an unaided human eye, therefore making visible celestial objects such as stars and galaxies that are trillions of miles away. Closer objects such as earth’s moon can be seen with such clarity and detail that the mountain at the center of the Tycho Crater can be seen clearly.

The year 2015 was the target date of the time machine in the motion picture “Back to the Future,” and now the year will also mark the date that Monmouth College received its own “time machine,” noted Fasano.

“The Trubeck Telescope, which is available to all of our students, is really a way to look back in time,” he said. “For example, we can take a detailed look at the Sculptor Galaxy, which is 11.4 million light years away. It’s part of the nearest group of galaxies to our Milky Way, and is going through a fascinating period of star formation. To view this object is to see it as it was 11.4 million years ago.”

Students will be able to capture spectacular high-resolution photographs of galaxies and nebulae, thanks to the telescope’s astrographic CDK design, which provides excellent imaging with a large format charge-coupled device (CCD) camera, while remaining superb for visual use. It far exceeds the performance of most commercial telescope designs.

“The CDK design was chosen primarily because of its sharpness and ease of use,” said assistant professor of physics Tim Stiles, who reported the entire assemblage weighs about 500 pounds.

The design is also unique in that it makes optical alignment forgiving and collimation (which minimizes divergence or convergence) very easy. It guarantees users the best possible performance from the telescope, allowing them to pinpoint stars from the center to the corner of the field of view, and also to accurately measure the distance between two objects.

The telescope is powerful enough that the distant objects it observes won’t simply appear as tiny dots to the user. Rather, a distant galaxy could fill the screen, making it easy to observe its fascinating features, such as spiral arms.

Aiming software includes the TheSkyX Professional Edition, which enables astronomers and students to more quickly find the objects they wish to image, and the CCD imaging easily allows storage of images taken.

“Users simply need to type in the object they wish to view, and the telescope will point itself to the object and then track it so that it continues to appear in the center of the field of view,” said Stiles.

The telescope also has spectroscopy capability, allowing users to derive many properties of distant stars and galaxies, such as their chemical composition, temperature, density, mass, distance and luminosity.

The former vice chair of the college’s board of trustees, Trubeck has been the chief financial officer for several corporations, including H&R Block, Waste Management and International Multi-Foods, and has held numerous corporate director positions. He was inducted into the Monmouth College Hall of Achievement in 2005. His brother-in-law and sister – David ’67 and Priscilla Trubeck Adolphson ’70 – funded the Adolphson Observatory, built in 2013.

The Trubeck Telescope is one of many new scientific research devices acquired by the college, including an atomic force microscope and a neutron generator.   Related stories: Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist John Mather gives 2015 Wendell Whiteman Memorial Lecture
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