Turn your computer into a telescope
Houston Community College students will soon be able to observe the stars by operating a scientific grade telescope from their computer. A large telescope will be set up at the McDonald Observatory in the mountains of West Texas that can be powered by the internet anywhere in the world, especially by HCC. This initiative, called the T.O.R.R.E. (Texas Outreach for Remote Research and Education) Project, is a joint development with Rice University and University of Texas.
HCC Computer Science Professor Roger Boston and HCC consultant Jake Fan have been tracking the progress of the project, which has been a five-year process, along with other HCC astronomy professors. Fan is the main controller of the telescope, which is powered by Hubble Source and uses a Linux based control system. The telescope measures 30 inches, which is the optimal size for research. It took four years to build the refurbished telescope, which occupies the same facilities as some of the largest telescopes in the world, including the tremendous Hobby-Eberly telescope. The dark skies in Fort Davis allow an observer to see far more than is visible to the naked eye in Houston.
Aside from being used by astronomy students, Boston wanted to make sure something of this caliber was available to all students and the public. Internet controlled telescopes are currently available, but the size and power of this telescope is not typically easily accessible. Researchers and distinguished scientists work at the McDonald, a career that may interest HCC students once they use the telescope. Considering its interesting approach to learning, the telescope will be used as a recruiting tool at high schools to promote scientific careers.
“Originally it was envisioned for astronomy students but this is just such a powerful tool that you hate to hide it from the rest of HCC. It’s something we should be proud of,” said Boston.
The T.O.R.R.E. telescope is currently operational for Rice faculty and students but will not be available to HCC for several months.
For more information about this project, please visit http://sites.hccs.edu/mediaroom/2013/05/see-how-your-computer-could-soon-be-a-telescope/.
Interim Director of Public Relations & Media