Access to powerful new telescope raises visibility of NAU astronomy program

Discovery Telescope

Northern Arizona University became a formal partner in Lowell Observatory’s Discovery Channel Telescope at a contract signing Tuesday.

The five-year partnership will result in about 80 nights of observation time for NAU astronomers, beginning in January. The telescope, commissioned in July, is the fifth largest in the continental United States.

“This represents an important regional partnership and is a huge boost for our astronomy program,” said NAU President John Haeger, who signed the documents along with observatory trustee Lowell Putnam.

Stephen Tegler, chair of Physics and Astronomy at NAU, will have his first opportunity to use the telescope in February. He and associate professor David Trilling, who has viewing time scheduled for January, will search the Kuiper Belt at the periphery of the solar system. The large-aperture telescope is ideal for producing excellent images of faint objects.

Discovery signing
Present at the signing were, seated from left: Lowell Director Jeff Hall; Lowell Trustee Lowell Putnam; and NAU President John Haeger. Standing, from left: Paul Jagodzinski, dean for the College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences; Mike Kitt, Lowell advisory board member; Steve Tegler, professor of physics and astronomy; Deidre Hunter, Lowell astronomer and deputy director for science; Lowell advisory board member Mike Beckage; and Provost Laura Huenneke.

“The Discovery Channel Telescope provides an entirely new research capability for us,” Tegler said. “Most astronomers in the United States will get a couple of nights per year on a telescope this size. There are not many universities that have this kind of access.”

Tegler said the partnership opens new opportunities for hands-on teaching, which he called a highlight of NAU’s approach to science education. “The way you become a scientist is by apprenticeship,” he said. “When students see they have access to this kind of facility, that’s a very big motivator.”

The telescope is located about 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff at Lowell Observatory’s Happy Jack site.