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Qais Akbar Omar (GRS’16), a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program, has published a much-praised memoir, A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story. He recalls how the violence and tumult of civil war jolted his family, who, despite losing relatives, their home, and possessions, continued to nurture his wish to attend a university.

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Boston University Joins Discovery Channel Telescope Partners for Celebration of “First Light”

July 24th, 2012

A delegation of Boston University (BU) faculty, including the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, joined other Discovery Channel Telescope partners this weekend to celebrate the new telescope’s “first light” (first observation of a distant astronomical object).

The event, held in Flagstaff, AZ, celebrated the successful fruition of a visionary effort by the private, non-profit Lowell Observatory and partners, including BU and Discovery Communications, to construct a world-class, state-of-the-art research instrument for the 21st century.

“The First Light Gala is a historic event in the annals of Lowell Observatory,” says Jeffrey Hall, director of Lowell Observatory. “It marks completion of our spectacular new research facility, initiation of superb projects that will bring our research to millions through our partnership with Discovery Communications. We are honored to be part of it and grateful to all who have helped make it a reality.”

The $53 million, 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope was completed without any state or federal funding. The collaboration between Lowell Observatory and its partners will be featured on-air in a one-hour special on Discovery Channel in early September 2012, which will document the planning and construction of the telescope.

“Boston University is receiving national attention in the field of astronomy for our partnership in this venture,” said Virginia Sapiro, Dean of Boston University College of Arts & Sciences, who also sits on the Advisory Board of the Lowell Observatory. ”This engagement will open up enviable opportunities for high level science for our astronomers, and great prospects for important work on science education, communication, and outreach for the broader BU community. It also opens up fascinating possibilities for connections with the other partners and associates of the Lowell Observatory and the DCT.”

Along with remarks from dignitaries such as Hall; John Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications and a major Lowell Observatory contributor; Lowell Observatory sole trustee William Lowell Putnam III; and a keynote speech from Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the Moon, the First Light Gala featured “first light” DCT images taken in May of galaxy M109 and other astronomical objects.

The images, along with special video presentations by the Observatory, Discovery, and Armstrong, was be presented to approximately 700 attendees, including representatives from the DCT’s ‘first light’ institutional partners Boston University (which signed an in-perpetuity agreement with a $10 million contribution, approaching that of Discovery), the University of Maryland, and the University of Toledo.

“The Discovery Channel Telescope will transform BU’s Astronomy Department by providing a cutting-edge facility not only for astronomical research but also for developing novel instruments,” said James Jackson, professor of astronomy and Associate Dean for Research and Outreach at Boston University College and Graduate School of College of Arts & Sciences. “Already it is performing far beyond expectations. It is so appropriate that this telescope has Discovery in its name, and we are chomping at the bit to get to work and make our own discoveries.”

Testing and commissioning of the Discovery Channel Telescope, which is located 45 miles southeast of Flagstaff near Happy Jack, AZ, will continue for at least another 18 months, as is typical with four- meter class telescopes. Structured scientific research is expected to begin in 2013 or 2014.

About the Discovery Channel Telescope

The Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) ­ being built by Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona ­ will be among the most technically sophisticated ground-based telescopes of its size. The Telescope, the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States, is completed and being commissioned at a dark-sky site on the Coconino National Forest approximately 45 miles SSE of Flagstaff. The project is being undertaken in partnership with Discovery Communications. Construction and commissioning of the telescope and associated infrastructure will cost approximately $53 million. The telescope will significantly augment Lowell Observatory’s observational capability and enable pioneering studies in a number of important research areas. First light, or first scientific use of the telescope, took place in May 2012.

About Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory is a private, non-profit research institution founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell. The Observatory has been the site of many important findings including the discovery of the large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipher in 1912-1914 (a result that led ultimately to the realization the universe is expanding), and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, Lowell’s 20 astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in diverse areas of astronomy and planetary science. The Observatory welcomes about 80,000 visitors each year to its Mars Hill campus in Flagstaff, Arizona for a variety of tours, telescope viewing and special programs. Lowell Observatory currently has four research telescopes at its Anderson Mesa dark-sky site east of Flagstaff, and recently completed a four-meter class research telescope, the Discovery Channel Telescope. For more information, please visit

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