Student Trip to the DCT
Each year, the AS441 Observational Astronomy class takes a trip to Flagstaff, Arizona, to acquire hands-on experience observing with modern, research-grade telescopes. In March of 2012, our class had the opportunity to visit the newly-constructed 4.3 meter Discovery Channel Telescope. After a long night of observing on the 72-inch Perkins Telescope at Anderson Mesa, we took the drive over to Happy Jack to see the DCT. Commissioning scientist of the DCT, Stephen Levine, gave us a tour of the facility. First we explored the mirror workshop: where the DCT mirrors are taken for cleaning and repairs. Next, we saw the electronics and machinery that control the DCT, including the control room which is located just a few floors below the telescope. Finally we were taken to see the telescope itself. The dome that houses the DCT seems quite small from outside, but enormous from the inside. The telescope is located on a rotating floor which controls the telescope’s azimuthal pointing. We were able to watch the telescope slew around with almost complete silence and grace. The shutters of the primary mirror opened to reveal the 4.3 meter diameter reflecting surface. We inspected the rear of the telescope where hundreds of actuators help adjust the mirror to a perfect shape. A large black box on the rear of the telescope will house the multiple instruments of the telescope when it is ready for scientific use. Trey Wenger, class of 2013.