FIU physics and astronomy professor James Webb opened up the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA) Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope (JKT) telescope on La Palma Canary Islands on Friday, April 8th, 2016. Starting at 3:00 p.m. EST, Dr. Webb and physics students Daniel Puentes, Steven Revesz, and Carman Vargas logged in across the Atlantic Ocean from the Stocker control room and began observing quasar 0716+71. Their observations were supplemented by local observations after dark in Miami, Florida.
Since the opening of the Stocker AstroScience Center in 2014, students have welcomed many new opportunities for exploration and discovery. In 2015, they first gained a view from the Canary Islands when the JKT was reactivated as part of a new agreement between SARA and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. FIU is one of 13 universities that make up SARA.
The acquisition of the JKT gives FIU astronomers a remotely operable telescope at one of the best observing sites for optical astronomy in the world – the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, home to about 20 telescopes on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma. This telescope complements the current SARA-South (Chile) and SARA-North (Arizona) telescopes.
Combined, they allow continuous viewing of the night sky uninterrupted by the day-night cycle. Remote operation enables savings in travel costs, flexibility in scheduling use of the telescopes, and simple access for students. The JKT was originally commissioned by the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands more than 30 years ago, taking advantage of the excellent atmospheric conditions afforded by the steep volcanic island of La Palma. Astronomers from the SARA partner institutions use such facilities to pursue research ranging from asteroids to quasars, as well as classroom and public outreach events.
Community outreach continues to be a core function of the Stocker AstroScience Center. The center was made possible by a gift from Carl Stocker, a retired educator and founding board member of FIU’s School of Integrated Science and Humanity.