Instrumentation Research

A Long Tradition

Our instrumentation team carries out a variety of work in support of our research instrumentation, our outreach telescopes, and our historic preservation projects. The machine shop is fully outfitted with computer-controlled machining instruments, CAD workstations, a clean room, and large-format printer.

In addition to regular maintenance of all research and education telescopes and associated instruments, the team also carries on a long tradition of developing and building research instruments. These efforts date back to the early years of Lowell Observatory, when Carl Lampland developed instruments for measuring the temperatures of planets, and later, Instrument Maker Stanley Sykes built a dome to house the Lawrence Lowell (Pluto Discovery) Telescope.

In more modern times, Instrument Manager Ted Dunham led the development of the High Speed Imaging Photometer for Occultations (HIPO) for NASA’s SOFIA project, an airborne observatory consisting of a 100-inch telescope mounted in a converted 747 plane. In another example, Instrument Scientist Tom Bida and Director of Technical Services Ralph Nye developed and machined the majority of parts for the instrument cube on the Lowell Discovery Telescope.

Looking Ahead

Today, the instrument team is working on a number of different projects. SETH is an optical communication system designed to receive laser signals from a NASA spacecraft to be launched in late 2024. The CSHELL infrared spectrograph was received by Lowell from the IRTF in Hawai’i, and a study is underway to determine the best way to refurbish and install the instrument on the Hall Telescope. The technology group, in conjunction with the Lowell astronomers and science partners, have also developed a list of potential new instrument capabilities for the Lowell Discovery Telescope. to be designed and built in the coming years.

In a few years the instrumentation team will move into a new technical services building. They are now determining the requirements for this facility, which will include a new machine shop, clean room, optics laboratory, and other facilities required for the design, construction, testing, and maintenance of our current and future instruments.

See recent staff publications.

Areas of Research

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Solar System

Planetary scientists continue a long tradition of studying bodies in the solar system, including the Sun, planets, moons, comets, meteors, asteroids, and Kuiper belt objects.

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Stellar Astrophysics

Another longstanding tradition at Lowell is the study of stars, from supermassive Wolf-Rayet stars to low-mass M-dwarf varieties.

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Exoplanetary Systems

Lowell astronomers search for distant worlds around other stars and characterize their nature.

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Galactic & Extragalactic Astronomy

V. M. Slipher’s observations of the redshifts of galaxies a century ago were the first evidence for the expansion of the universe. Research on structures of galaxies and of the universe continues at Lowell today.

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Cultural Astronomy

Researchers not only study how the universe works, but also how humans perceive it and integrate these interpretations into culture.

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Instrumentation Research & Development

Our instrumentation team carries out a variety of work in support of research instrumentation, outreach telescopes, and historic preservation projects.

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