View Full Version : To get a professional telescope running...

peter eldergill
2010-Nov-23, 03:13 AM
What would be the costs and obstacles to get a research grade telescope up and running so that astronomers would be begging you for time on the scope?

Pretend you're a philanthropist who wants to spend millions.

Is it even possible to get one up and running? Are there private observatories that researchers use? (Obviously there are private observatories)

What steps does it take to get one operational?

In case you're wondering, I have an extra $100 000 000 sitting around :)


2010-Nov-23, 05:35 AM
The Keck telescopes were originally funded mainly by the W.M. Keck foundation (http://www.wmkeck.org/), which I guess counts as a private organisation. Not sure of the funding now, but I think a some, if not all, is provided by donations.

2010-Nov-23, 01:33 PM
The closest model for a private observatory which is not operated by the organization hiring the astronomers (i.e. Lowell, Las Campanas, Palomar...) is probably the Tenegra Observatory (http://www.tenagraobservatories.com/), whose brochures advertise the finest in commercial telescope time. The sample data do look good, but then I can't think of anyone else making a living at the moment by selling telescope time. The listed costs are in line with paying the bills - the SARA consortium, for example, manages to operate its telescopes for a bit less, but the observer has to run them remotely and we didn't have to buy the telescopes to begin with (although refitting for remote ops has not been cheap).

Some observatories do the equivalent to keep themselves running (Palomar, some NOAO telescopes). This has been a tough sell for astronomers because of the legacy of generations of doing your own data collection (and spending years honing one's craft in every detail of telescope and instrument operation), but now in the era of automated acquisition, guiding, weather monitoring.. the observer's presence has a less and less direct bearing on the data quality.

The alert reader wll notice that it sounds a lot like space astronomy. I have heard of conversations between X-ray and optical astronomers more or less like:
XRA: "Still pointlessly traipsing halfway around the world for your photons instead of just using ftp, I see."
OA: "But of course. Why else would I ever have wanted to do this for a living?"

I hasten to add that the key is the observing experience itself, not the traipsing around the planet. Astronomers of no less stature than Sandy Faber and Allan Sandage remarked on the almost mystical sense of conection one can feel with the Universe. A part of that, with some imagination, survives transmission over the internet.

(Clarifying note - most references in a research context to private observatories mean "as distinct from run under government agreement and open to any qualifying astronomer", which would include Kittt Peak, Cerro Tololo, ESO, etc. Thus Keck, Palomar, Steward, McDonald would fall under "private", although each is operated by a university and some by state universities.)

2010-Nov-30, 05:40 PM
Just give the money to me and I'll take care of it for you :)

2010-Dec-06, 03:16 PM
Here is something that you may be interested in reading:


2010-Dec-06, 09:25 PM
Step one: Give some to Moose.
Step two: ?
Step three: Profit.