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50″ Dedication: World’s Largest Privately Owned Research Telescope October 20, 2014

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On a nightly basis, Holmes quietly monitors the universe.  He does so from his rural Westfield home, located about 10 miles east of Charleston, and he stills uses telescopes – although they’ve graduated greatly in size. In fact, Holmes recently completed the construction and installation of a 50-inch (size of the mirror) telescope, making him the proud owner of the largest privately owned telescope in the world.  It is the fourth in a collection that also includes a 24-inch, a 30-inch and a 32-inch telescope – each of which has its own outbuilding to keep it safe from the elements.


Scale View of the 50″ telescope (Photo by Mike Lockwood)

“The buildings are about 10-feet wide, with roofs that slide straight back,” Dr. Steve Daniels, EIU Physics Chair said. “Bob did his own design.”“There’s a microwave link between the observatory on Bob’s property and EIU,” he continued.  “It’s Web-based, made possible as a result of a very strong collaborative effort.”Holmes’ connection with Eastern goes even deeper.“As an adjunct professor, he hosts our astronomy classes; they go out to his property a couple of times a year, at least,” Daniels said.  “And he works closely with Jim Conwell, the physics professor who built Eastern’s own observatory.“Students are an integral part of Bob’s work,” he added.  “And not just with students at EIU.  Through his work, Bob reaches about 300 schools in 40 countries, working with students to analyze the multitude of data that he collects.  He helps researchers – both young and old – by making his equipment available to Skynet, an internet-based telescope-sharing network.


Bob Holmes and EIU President William Perry

“He generates an enormous database of photographs that he collects almost every night, and then uploads it to the Web for others to use.  He holds workshops to train teachers to analyze astronomical data, including how to identify asteroids in a series of photographs, and encourages them to pass this knowledge along to their own students,” Daniels said.

Of course, Holmes does continue to spend many of his nights in solitude, gazing up into the skies.  And he continues to break records for discovering and tracking Near Earth Objects.  In fact, despite the many major observatories, Holmes is responsible for nearly half of all NEO measurements made in 2011.

“In other words, his observatory is responsible for more NEO data that anyplace else in the world,” Daniels said.  “From his observatory in Westfield, Bob Holmes stands guard over our world.

Excerpts were taken from the full article that can be seen at EIU.

Two Year Project Done August 16, 2013

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This week we have completed a two year long project to connect the telescopes at the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI) to the high speed internet access at EIU. This was done with a direct, line of sight,  microwave link over the 12 miles separating ARI and the EIU campus. This increases the bandwidth to upload images every night by a factor of at least 15.

The new wide-field camera (32 megabytes per image) took 10-15 minutes per image to up load, under the old connection.  At times it wasn’t even possible as the uploader gave up and stopped running.  It takes about 30-40 seconds now per image with zero failure rate.  The 2 meg images on the other cameras are less than 2-3 seconds.

Just two telescopes took 12-16 hrs for upload with just the 2 meg images with the old internet.  ARI never even tried the new camera on the old internet except to test the time it took.  Now all three scopes can be uploaded in about 90 minutes.  That’s about 2,500 images or 6 gigs of data.  We are typically done by 6am!

Some day the 50 inch will be working and adding another 1.5 gigs of data per night with the large format Apogee camera. Until then enjoy a look at one of the first test pictures uploaded from the wide field camera on the 30″ telescope. the galaxy M33


M33: Taken by Robert Holmes (Click to enlarge)

Gathering the Wrong Light July 21, 2012

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Imagine for a moment, driving at night through the vast and unpopulated expanses of the western deserts of North America. Frequently, some of the most amazing photos of our night sky are taken from locations such as these and for very good reason. The only light visible is that which is being projected from the stars above. Back to yourself in the car now, you are approaching a town, a rather large town. As you get closer the lights from above start to fade as your eyes are drawn toward the glowing city. It’s not that street lamps and stoplights are more of an amazing site than our celestial blanket; it’s just that those lights are quickly becoming the only thing visible. You are experiencing the plague of metropolitan exorbitance, a form of pollution, light pollution.

Light pollution is one of the newest forms of pollution plaguing modern society. Before electric grids the night sky, even in large cities, was still an intriguing sight. As technology evolved and electricity flowed we were able to combat our limited night vision by lighting the night. As the world at night become brighter we covered the sky by uncovering what lies beneath us at night.

Lighting too has evolved throughout time. We are becoming more familiar with the glow of HID, or high intensity discharge lights, while becoming less familiar with the arrangement of the heavens. To get a view of just how encroaching light pollution can be we need only look at the animal kingdom. Lighting areas where light is not naturally present at night is having a major effect on nocturnal animals. Sea turtle hatchlings are often confused by brightly lit beaches and wander away from safe havens. Migration patterns of many species of waterfowl have been altered due to excess lighting. Feeding is a naturally performed at night for nocturnal creatures and feeding patterns have brought unwanted guests to our doorsteps due to light pollution. Lights attract bugs and bugs attract bats.

Astronomers from amateur to professional can all agree that light pollution is a great disturbance. Before even viewing a star astronomers without an enclosure cannot expect to have full dark adaption at night. The tools of astronomy are also plagued by light pollution. For instance, the Mt. Wilson Observatory just outside of Los Angeles is now operating at 11% of its original capacity due to the glowing L.A. night sky. While some stars may be visible in areas of high light pollution galaxies and nebula are greatly dimmed and very difficult to see even with advanced telescopes. New observatories are increasingly being constructed in remote areas in order combat light pollution but remote construction brings higher costs.

Limiting magnitude can be described as the faintest apparent magnitude of a celestial body capable of being detected and dependent upon equipment. Light pollution has a direct and sustained impact on the limiting magnitude in a given area. The limiting magnitude of the human eye under a completely dark sky is somewhere in the range of 7.6-8.0. At the other side of this scale, imagine yourself staring up at the night sky in a brightly lit inner-city setting. The limiting magnitude of your eye has been reduced by fifty percent to 4.0 or less. That comparison is simply applied to eyeball astronomy though, what about astronomers looking to make an observation. Under a dark sky with a 32 centimeter reflecting telescope you might just make some observations at the 18th magnitude. Again, we travel to the city where you set up your scope and find that you will only be making observations at the 13th magnitude.

For those in areas affected by light pollution there are some methods of circumventing it. Astronomers often employ narrow or high-band filters that do not allow light of certain spectral lines to pass through a telescope. The spectral lines targeted are those emitted by common vapor lamps including mercury and sodium. Though a good tool, these filters do limit the use of higher magnification.

If you wish to calculate how much light pollution will affect your astronomy work there is a simple equation to employ. The equation, I=0.01Pd-2.5 where I is the increase in sky glow, P is the population of the targeted city and d is the distance to the center of the city, works very well. This law is commonly referred to as Walker’s Law. Merle Walker proposed this relation after taking measurements of sky glow in several California cities. If you used this calculation and yielded a value of .03 that would mean that at the midway point between the horizon and zenith angle in the direction of the city the current sky would be 3% brighter than the natural background.

It is easy to see that combating light pollution would be of great benefit to society in general, the cost savings alone are staggering. Every year we waste one billion dollars lighting the night sky. Remediation of this problem is not as difficult as one might think; in fact, light pollution is the easiest of all forms of pollution to fix. Replacing old style lamps that radiate light in all directions with lamps that focus light downward is one remediation tactic. Also, we have to realize that lighting is not always necessary and we should take steps to remove lighting where it is not needed. Changing output is another effective method. Extremely bright bulbs are used in a number of lighting applications where they are not needed, limiting energy output not only reduces light pollution but also saves money.

We often light outdoor areas without a thought as to what we are losing. We may gain a little extra ease of night time navigation but we lose light at the same time. The light we lose is the light from nebula, galaxies and stars. This light has traveled a great distance, often many light years. This light has traveled those great distances through the vast reaches of outer space. This light ends its journey within our atmosphere at the hands of our lighting. Light pollution is a problem we have created but a problem that we can fix. Take a moment to look at the heavens through a dark sky and ask yourself if it is worth saving. My answer is yes.

16″ Telescope in the Repair Shop November 6, 2011

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The campus observatory’s 16″ telescope has been under the weather for the last month or so. We thought it might have been electrical problems in the building, but my two students, Tyler and Hannah traced it to one of the circuit boards that deal with the RA (Right Ascension) drive. That’s the motor that moves the telescope East and West, and also tracks objects as the Earth rotates. You can see the picture below as Hannah puts the mount back together to ship it off to Meade. Sometimes the best education happens when things don’t work. There is no better major than physics to teach problem solving skills.

Hannah and the 16" Mount

We hope to have the telescope back and running in a couple weeks. Until then we can use the 30″ telescope we helped refurbished at ARI, and the 16″ telescopes in Chile.

SKY & TELESCOPE Article on Local Observatory November 4, 2011

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroids, Astronomers, Observatory, telescopes.
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December 2011 Issue

The December Issue of Sky & Telescope has hit the newsstand this week. The feature article is on Bob Holmes, an adjunct professor in the Physics Department here at EIU.  Bob is director of the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI), a private research observatory about 15 miles away from Charleston. He is one of NASA’s principle people who does orbital measurements of Near Earth Object (NEOs). These are potentially hazardous asteroids that intersect near the Earth’s orbit. All done with telescopes that he BUILT! I’ll tell you next week about the his new 50″ telescope, with picture of the mount installation, that will be fully installed next year. It  make ARI the largest privately owned observatory in the world.

Telescope News from ARI and EIU November 7, 2010

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Astronomical Research Institute(ARI), Eastern Illinois University and Hands-on Universe in cooperation with the University of Chicago Yerkes Observatory and Argonne National Laboratory just commissioning the 30 inch (0.76m) AutoScope that will be used for education and research. EIU and ARI refurbished this RC optics telescope after it had been stuck by lightning in New Mexico. New photos show it on site at the opening nite celebration.

30" RC Astroscope

We also got to see the progress on the ARI’s 50″ telescope which will hopefully see first light in the summer of 22011. You can see the progress on the massive fork mount that will hold the optical tube.

Dr. Steve Daniels, ARI's Bob Holmes and Prof. Dave Linton looking at the massive folk mount for the 50" telescope

After a new coat of epoxy primer and weighing in at 1990 lbs the fork mount stands ready for the rest of the telescope to be completed.

Fork for the 50" telescope

Astronomy Club Tonight: Telescope Training October 20, 2010

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Tonight at the astronomy club we will be doing Telescope training, so come on over at 8:00PM, room 2153 Physical Science Building . We will look at the small telescopes, then move on over to the observatory to use the 16″ scope. P.S.  …..Dress warm

First Science from the 30″ Robo-scope! September 14, 2010

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On September 5th,  you saw first light.  This week we’ll talk about the first science measurements. The main research carried out at ARI and EIU with the 32″ scope and the 24″ scope are the search and measurement of  Near Earth Objects (NEO).  Just finding these objects are not enough, you must also precisely measure the changes of the position (astrometry) as the asteroid moves. These measurements determine the orbit, and allows astronomers to trace the future path of any asteroid. Below is a typical set of stacked photos from a CCD camera. The streaks are stars, caused by the rotation of the Earth, and the dot in the center is the asteroid (not moving with the stars).

Now after you take several of these photos and use a computer program like Astrometrica to analyze the data, you file a report at the Minor Planet Center at Harvard, the world clearinghouse for this data. So the data what’s it look like….(The first data from the new scope)

CON R. Holmes, 7168 NCR 2750E, Ashmore, IL 61912 USA
CON [ari@astro-research.org]
OBS R. Holmes
MEA R. Holmes
TEL 0.76-m f/6.8 Cassegrain + CCD
ACK Batch 001
AC2 ari@astro-research.orgK10R82M  C2010 09 13.15907423 39 23.63 +00 19 10.0          18.3 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.16194523 39 22.39 +00 18 07.2          17.9 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.16486023 39 21.12 +00 17 03.6          18.0 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.16792823 39 19.78 +00 15 56.8          18.1 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.17080923 39 18.51 +00 14 54.1          17.6 V      H21
K10R82M  C2010 09 13.17502023 39 16.67 +00 13 23.3          18.3 V      H21

The first lines tell the observatory code (H21) fro the Astronomical Research Institute. A few line down you see the telescope; a 0.76-meter in diameter f/6.8 RC Cassegrain + CCD Camera. You see that Bob Holmes was both the observer( who took the picture ) and the person who measured the data. Then comes the data:

K10R82M  C2010 09 13.15907423 39 23.63 +00 19 10.0          18.3 V      H21

K10R82M is the name of the asteroid,  2010 09 13.15907423 is the time of the measurement, and the position of the asteroid in Declination and Right Ascension are 39 23.63  and +00 19 10.0, followed by the apparent magnitude of 18.3. You need at LEAST 3 of these measurements to get an orbit.

So the telescope is all set? Not quite.

I’ll show you three more pictures,  and in Bob Holmes (Director of Astronomical Research Institute)  words show what to look for when you install a new telescope:


From Bob Holmes:

“Attached are three images taken with the 30” HOU telescope.

M57_2 (Ring Nebula)

This is an image from the 30″ telescope last night, a 1 minute exposure on M57_2. There were some thin clouds moving in during this exposure.  Images have not been flat fielded, but the camera is very clean and we have no vignetting of the image field so this is not a significant factor.

Note the primary mirror is not sitting correctly in the cell or the plungers are not tightened equally around the Cassegrain hole causing the malformed star images.  This may be a little worse in this image due to a warm mirror relative to the outside air temp.  There may also be some collimation errors adding to this distortion.  I will be working on these issues in the next day or so.Correcting this will increase the limiting magnitude better than the 20.8 in M57.

There is also a misalignment in the OTA to DEC axis (does not affect image quality) causing error in pointing by several arc minutes from one part of the sky to another.  This will require re-shimming the tower that holds the secondary to perpendicularity.


Image 2 is M13_1 with a one minute exposure reaching about a unfiltered magnitude 20.0.  Due to the size of the target in the image, the scale was reduced to show the entire object.  This was taken on 2010 09 13.  As you can see the star shapes are a little better due to the mirror cooling nearer the outside ambient air temp.

M27 (Dumbbell Nebula)

Image 3 is M27_1 with a one minute exposure reaching about unfiltered magnitude 20.2.  Due to the size of the target in the image the scale was reduced to show the entire object.  This was taken on 2010 09 13. ”
Bob Holmes


So we still need to tweak the alignment, then we install the cooling fans, to cool down and keep the primary mirror at ambient temperature, (otherwise the mirror expands and changes focus).  Then more photos to see if anything needs to be done but by October everything should be fine…..weather permitting.


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First light images on the 30″ Scope taken August 28.These were both about 20 second exposures. To give you an idea of brightness, the center white dwarf star in the ring nebula is about 15th magnitude.

M57 the Ring Nebula

M57 the Ring Nebula

Great Globular Cluster in Hercule, M13

Now the work begins to calibrate the telescope, but we have a starting point now.  The RC optics are a bit picky to get  aligned after reassembly. We now also can do a full polar alignment of the mount. These

30″ TELESCOPE IS IN!: Summer Update 1 August 31, 2010

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John Pratte and Bob Holme installing the 30" mirror cell

August 17th was a big day for the EIU Physics department and the Astronomical Research Institute (ARI). We assembled the refurbished 30″ diameter Ritchey–Chrétien telescope. Bob Holmes, director of ARI, and an adjunct faculty member of the EIU Physics department, the Physics students at EIU, John Pratt, and your’s truly have worked for about nine months for this day. If you look at some of the past articles in this blog and at ARI’s site you’ll see some of the history behind this project.

30" Primary Mirror in it cell

First the triangular base was installed; then the rotating cradle that is the Right Ascension Axis, and holds the primary mirror cell, was mounted on motors in the base. Next we used a engine hoist to lift in the steel mirror cell into the cradle so it can pivot on the Declination axis . Finally we install the 30″ mirror in its cell. Now most of the heavy lifting is done, but the cage, or tower, that hold the secondary mirror must still be installed.

Jim Conwell and Bob Holmes

Now comes the part where we put a camera on and see if all the optics and mount are well aligned.

But more on that next time…along with first light photos!