AAS 202nd Meeting, May 2003
Session 38 Robotic Astronomical Observatories
Topical Oral, Wednesday, May 28, 2003, 8:30-10:00am and 10:45am-12:30pm, 209/210

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[38.07] The Iowa Robotic Telescope Facility: Lessons from Five Years of Robotic Telescope Operation

R. L. Mutel (University of Iowa)

The University of Iowa has operated a robotic telescope facility (Iowa Robotic Telescope Facility, IRTF) in southern Arizona since 1998. There are currently two telescopes (0.37m and 0.5m) in operation, with imaging CCD cameras, filter wheels, and an uncooled 2048-channel spectrometer. The facility is scheduled and administered from Iowa City using web-based tools. It is operated primarily by and for undergraduate and graduate students. We typically acquire 500-600 images from each telescope every clear night. Each image is CCD-calibrated and has an astrometric solution applied immediately after the exposure is completed. The IRTF web site (http://phobos.physics.uiowa.edu) reports statistical summaries of observing conditions (seeing, weather, image summaries by observer code) for each night's observing.

The IRTF has been in routine operation for over five years, and has produced more than 100,000 images. It has been used in laboratory research projects by more than 3,000 undergraduate students and by several graduate students for M.S. theses. It has also been used for faculty research, resulting in several peer-reviewed research papers.

In this talk, I will address four issues related to robotic telescopes based on our experience with the IRTF:

1. What hardware and software challenges need to be overcome to operate a robotic telescope reliably using non-professional observers (i.e. undergraduates)?

2. What are the software and hardware design criteria needed for reliable, user-friendly scheduling and image acquisition?

3. What types of undergraduate astronomical laboratory projects can be done with a robotic telescope?

4. What types of scientific research can be done using small robotic telescope facilities?

The IRTF is supported by the National Science Foundation and the University of Iowa.

If you would like more information about this abstract, please follow the link to http://phobos.physics.uiowa.edu. This link was provided by the author. When you follow it, you will leave the Web site for this meeting; to return, you should use the Back comand on your browser.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: robert-mutel@uiowa.edu

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