As I said in my last blog post, there are many ways for people to participate in astronomy-related citizen science activities. On my recent trip to New Mexico, I met a citizen scientist and self-described "wrench turner" named Tom Krajci who is providing a valuable service to the AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers) and other researchers. Tom provides a hosting site for telescopes used by citizen scientists worldwide.
Situated at over 9,400 feet (2865m) in elevation, Tom's home is located near the small village of Cloudcroft in south-central New Mexico not far from the Apache Point Observatory. The south-central portion of New Mexico has become a mecca for amateur and professional astronomers because of its dark skies, excellent "seeing" and favorable weather.
Tom currently has seven telescope enclosures on his property (they can be seen in the image at the top of this blog post). He hosts four telescopes (soon to be five) for AAVSOnet, one telescope for a Swiss astronomer doing research on eclipsing binaries and a telescope that captures data for the Center for Backyard Astrophysics.
AAVSOnet is a global network of telescopes used to support AAVSO research projects. The four scopes hosted by Tom are:
- K28. A Celestron CPC-1100 11-inch (280mm) Schmidt-Cassegrain with an SBIG ST-8 camera.
- W28. A Celestron C11 Schmidt-Cassegrain on a Celestron CGE mount with an SBIG ST-7 camera.
- W30. A 12" (305mm) Meade LX200 Classic Schmidt-Cassegrain with an SBIG ST-9 camera.
- BSM (Bright Star Monitor). A Takahashi FS-60CB telescope with an SBIG ST-8XME camera and an SBIG CFW-9 filterwheel.
You can see an image of the Bright Star Monitor telescope to the left. The Bright Star Monitor will provide photometry data on approximately 2,000 bright variable stars that have often been bypassed by amateur and professional astronomers who have been focused primarily on dimmer stars. The Takahashi FS-60CB telescope was chosen for this project because it has a small aperture and you don't want to saturate the variable star when taking images. In addition, this setup provides a nice wide field which makes it easier to find comparison stars.
So, what skills do you need to host telescopes for scientific research? Well, Tom described himself more than once as a "wrench turner" during my visit and I can see why. A large portion of his time is spent refurbishing and repairing telescopes and mounts and many rooms in his home have projects in various stages of completion. In addition to "turning wrenches", Tom spends time beta testing software (he finds his share of bugs) and he provides manual support for observing runs because none of the enclosures are currently automated.
Of course, some of the skills necessary for hosting scientific research telescopes can only be gained through many years of experience. Tom is a long time observer and telescope maker who even found time to collect scientific data while stationed in Tashkent, Uzbekistan while a member of the U.S. Air Force. During his two year deployment in Uzbekistan, Tom used his Celestron C11 telescope, SBIG ST-7 camera and acquired homemade mount to collect data for the Center for Backyard Astrophysics. This data was particularly valuable because Tom was stationed in a time zone not covered by any other observer for the CBA and the CBA tries to obtain coverage of studied objects 24 hours a day.
You might think with all his other activities Tom would have little time for anything else astronomy and science related. You would be wrong. Tom also volunteers at the local high school and middle school in Cloudcroft coaching students for the Science Olympiad.
Right after I published this blog post I learned that Alexa Villaume (U. Massachusetts, Amherst & Maria Mitchell Obs.) won a Chambliss Undergraduate Student Medal at the 217th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). The meeting was held last week in Seattle. What makes this noteworthy in the context of this blog post, is that much of the data from Alexa’s winning poster came from Tom’s photometry farm. Please check out http://aas.org/grants/awards.php#student. Congratulations to everyone involved.
This is a good example of the contribution made by citizen scientists like Tom not only to our knowledge of astronomy but to the education of our students.
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