Astronomer Ken Tapping looks over some of the electronics at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. Western News file photo

Astronomer Ken Tapping looks over some of the electronics at the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. Western News file photo

Star Gazing: Using a large telescope

Ken Tapping, astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory

Over the last two or three decades, the progress made in development of new astronomical instrumentation has been nothing short of stunning.

We can make bigger mirrors and antennas, more sensitive instruments, and far more powerful analysis techniques. We can put telescopes in space and observe cosmic emissions that were previously hidden from us.

For many years, front-line observatories have been beyond the reach of individual organizations, and are now funded as national projects or international collaborations. We therefore have to do our best to get the highest possible scientific productivity per funding dollar. Since science involves exploring the unknown, blind alleys are unavoidable, but we try hard to allocate observing time to scientifically valuable projects with a high probability of getting useful results. This also means connecting the instrument to as many prospective users as possible. The objective is to have the best connections between the biggest pool of scientific creativity and the instrumentation it needs to go forward.

International collaboration is important. Without it, doing similar research in different countries would require duplication of expensive technology. Instead, we make our instruments available to researchers in other countries and in return our researchers have access to their instruments. This means we can all make unique instruments, and have a much bigger research toolbox without wasting important and limited funds. It also means we have more contact with our international colleagues, so we have a far bigger forum to share ideas. So, you are working on a science problem and you are stuck. You need some data that is not available from other observatories or data sites like the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre. You need to make some observations, and need to apply to use a telescope. How do you do this?

These days you will probably go on the internet. Almost all observatories have websites, which list the available instruments and their capabilities. You find the observatory with the capability and instrumentation to make the observations you need, and then you download the application form. In this you identify yourself, give some background on your research and progress so far. You describe the problem and what sort of data you need, and what sort of observations you need to make. You need to do the best possible job in selling yourself, your work, and your research project. You then submit it, usually online. Working on your application might require some emailing to the observatory in order to better fit your needs to the available instruments.

Most observatories have a Time Allocation Committee (TAC), or something like that, which is responsible for getting the best productivity out of the instruments. They collect all the observing applications and send them to independent, impartial reviewers, usually scientists with relevant research interests who have no formal connection with the observatory. On the basis of the reviewersí reports, the TAC allocates the observing time, starting with the highest rated projects and working down the list until the time for that planning period is used up. So for many there will be disappointment. However, you’re lucky, so itís time to book some flights. There is nothing quite like having a huge telescope and its staff there just for you: exhilarating and scary.

At 3:07 a.m. on the June 21, the sun will reach the northernmost point in its yearly travels — the summer solstice: the day with the longest period of daylight. Venus shines brightly in the west after sunset. After dark, Jupiter dominates the southern sky and Saturn is rising in the southwest. Mars, getting brighter every night as it gets nearer to its closest to us on June 26, rises about 1 a.m. The moon will be full on June 27.

Ken Tapping is an astronomer with the National Research Council’s Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Penticton

Just Posted

(Dave Ogilvie/Contributed)
Injured mountain biker rescued in West Kelowna

The mountain biker reportedly has a hip injury about 1 km up the Smith Creek Road trail

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed Eli Beauregard facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Asia Youngman (right) is pictured shooting another short film she wrote and directed titled Hatha. (Luba Popovic)
Peachland set to star in fantasy thriller film about N’xaxaitk’w — a.k.a. the Ogopogo

The film will follow an Indigenous teen as she navigates peer pressure, bullying and identity

Fruit farmers in the Okanagan and Creston valleys are in desperate need of cherry harvesters amid COVID-19 work shortages. (Photo: Unsplash/Abigail Miller)
‘Desperate’ need for workers at Okanagan cherry farms

Fruit farmers are worried they’ll have to abandon crops due to COVID-19 work shortages

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Jeanette Megens
KCR: Volunteering is sharing your story

Kelowna Community Resources shares stories of its volunteers in a weekly column

The Pierre family, an Indigenous family, once lived in what is now downtown Summerland. Today, Pierre Drive is named in honour of the family. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Pierre family played role in Summerland’s history

Downtown Summerland was once Penticton Indian Reserve #3

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Jaimee Peters photo of a Willow Midwives helping with a birth. Willow closed its doors March 31 because of a shortage of midwives. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s only midwifery to re-open this summer

Willow Community Midwives was forced to close because of a shortage of midwives

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Most Read