Sharper, Stabler View Beyond Earth
James Lowenthal, associate
professor of astronomy, gets to know the Meade RCX400,
a telescope donated by Aimee Girard ’10 and
her father, Don Girard (pictured).
to a new arrival at the McConnell Observatory, donated by
Aimee Girard ’10
and her father, clearer, sharper views of deep space are now available to eyes
A new Meade RCX400, a 10-inch
telescope powerful enough to view tiny craters, valleys and
hills on the moon, far away nebulae and galaxies millions
of light years distant, arrived last month to join 12- and
16-inch telescopes already in the astronomy department arsenal.
Aimee Girard ’10,
on the roof of McConnell Hall, enjoys the Meade telescope
she donated to Smith.
The telescope had been given
to Girard by her uncle, Henry Girard, when she was enrolled
in Astronomy 100 at Smith. When it sat virtually unused for
the past couple years, she and her father, Don Girard, decided
to donate the powerful machine to Smith’s astronomy department.
It was a fortuitous circumstance,
explains James Lowenthal, associate professor of astronomy.
His department attempted to purchase the same telescope two
years ago but the model was no longer available.
department's other telescopes, the new Meade is under full
computer control, says Lowenthal. “These telescopes can point
in seconds to any of thousands of targets with the push of
a button,” he says.
Unlike its counterparts, however,
the new telescope is equipped with a carbon-fiber tube, which
experiences minimal expansion and contraction with temperature
changes, resulting in more stable images, Lowenthal says.
Also, the machine’s advanced
optical design delivers sharp images over a wider field of view.
“The sky’s the limit with this
easily be able to see cloud belts, spots and moon shadows
on Jupiter, gaps in the rings of Saturn and features on the
surface of Mars.”
The new telescope will be used
for classes, student research, astronomy department open
houses and field trips, says Lowenthal. It may find a permanent
home at the college’s MacLeish Field Station in Whately, a rural research outpost removed
from city light pollution, which offers dark night skies and better views of
distant, faint objects in deep space.