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

Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, Observatory, telescopes.
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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)

Thank you to the Haunted Observatory Crew October 29, 2012

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This last Friday we had our annual Halloween open house at the observatory. Thanks to all the pumpkin carvers and heroes who made it all possible!

Some of the fearless pumpkin carvers.

And some of our favorite heroes of the night

Family Open House Tonight September 28, 2012

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EIU Observatory

Tonight beginning at 8:30 we will have our monthly open house at the EIU Observatory. This month we will have a full moon and with clear skies, we will observe the Ring Nebula through the 16″ main scope. Some come on out and meet the members of the Astronomy Club and rotate our dome!

Gamma Ray Bursts by Danielle Thompson July 24, 2012

Posted by missthompsondhs in Astronomy, Gamma Ray Bursts, General.
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In an extremely distance galaxy far far away, billions of light years away from Earth, something remarkable happens nearly every day. The brightest and most energetic events known to the universe perform an electromagnetic lightshow. This extravagant phenomenon releases as much energy in a few seconds as the Sun does in its entire lifetime. This amazing occurrence is thought to be connected to the explosive death of a massive star or the collision of neutron stars. These spectacular incidents, known as gamma ray bursts, that only occur on average for 20-40 seconds produce sudden intense flashes of gamma radiation that outshines everything else in the sky.

Image Gamma Ray Burst

The discovery of the first gamma ray burst was a fortunate derivative of nuclear war defense using U.S. Vela satellites in the late 60’s. The US military satellites were carrying gamma ray detectors because nuclear reactions from bomb tests would give off gamma radiation. The satellites detected a flash of gamma radiation uncharacteristic of any nuclear weaponry. Surprisingly, this discovery was not of urgent concern to the US and over the next ten years with improved technology more information was collected and finally published in a scientific journal.

A later version of an Italian-Dutch satellite, BeppoSAX, launched in 1996 was equipped with not only a gamma ray but an x-ray detector allowing for the observation of the first “afterglow” of a gamma ray burst. An afterglow is caused from the burst colliding with the interstellar gases emitting longer wavelengths. Today NASA satellites are used to create the Gamma-ray Burst Coordinates Network (GCN) which coordinates space and ground-based observations to allow for better viewing of gamma ray bursts’ afterglows.

Image NASA

Further investigation into gamma ray bursts due to the improvements of satellites has allowed for the classification of long and short duration bursts. Long bursts have to last for more than 2 seconds and astronomers are fairly certain the cause of long duration gamma ray bursts is a rapidly rotating massive star, greater than 100 solar masses, and known as a supernova that is collapsing to form a black hole. Short duration bursts make up 30% of all bursts and are thought to be caused by neutron stars colliding. While studying long and short duration bursts, it has been discovered that no two bursts have the same light curve, this is a mystery that still plaques astronomers today.

ImageLight Curves

A new possible explanation for gamma ray burst is a hypernova. Scientists refer to a hypernova as a “failed supernova”, which is still a massive star whose core has collapsed but didn’t go boom. The hypernova’s shock wave doesn’t blow off the outer layers like a supernova does. The outer layers fall into the central neutron star or black hole and produces enormous amount of heat and radiation with an outcome of higher luminosity than a supernova. A hypernova has become the favored possible explanation because gamma ray bursts are more luminous than a supernova. The actually existence of hypernovae is still a hot debate.

Some astronomers suffer from ergophobia, the fear of energy, and the fear that our galaxy the Milky Way could experience a bad day. The scenario of a gamma ray burst firing its extremely energetic radiation at planet Earth is dishearting. The intense gamma rays would be stopped by the Earth’s stratosphere but the ozone layer would be destroyed. Would the depletion of the ozone layer inevitable cause a mass extinction? Gamma ray bursts fuel the speculation that there is a conceivable end to life as we know it on Earth.

Image The Milky Way



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Over the next few days we will have a special treat. Some guest bloggers from my summer astronomy class for science teachers will be commenting on some cosmic and terrestrial topics that caught their interests this summer.


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Come to the Saturn viewing tonight. Last month was a little cloudy, but tonight looks clear. Viewing this close to the summer solstice, not only is it HOT (103 today), but the sun sets the latest of the year. So we will  begins at 9:00PM TONIGHT. Parking is at the campus lot near the Methodist church. Because of construction on 4th street you may have to approach from the South.


Posted by jcconwell in Astronomy, planets, Solar and Space weather, Sun.
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Come to the Charleston public library to view the transit of Venus. From 4:30pm to 6:00PM TODAY!!



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30" RC Astroscope

Yerkes Skynet Night Registration

You are invited…


Skynet Night

Yerkes Observatory event Friday Feb. 24th – 7:00 PM


In 2012, Yerkes will be engaged in a series of fund-raising events to support the restoration and upgrades of Yerkes telescopes and support funding for Yerkes Education Outreach programs. On Friday evening February 24th, Yerkes will host the first of these events.

Supporting SKYNET and Yerkes telescopes

Funds from this first event will be used specifically to upgrade the mirror coating and operation of the Yerkes 41″ reflector, and to support the redesign of the optics of the reclaimed Hands-On Universe 30” telescope by Robert Holmes of the Astronomical Research Institute. Both of these telescopes are operable through SKYNET (http://skynet.unc.edu/), a world-wide network of telescopes, used by scientists, and teachers and students associated with our Yerkes Education Programs and our Collaborators, including Hands-On Universe (HOU) and International Asteroid Search Campaign (IASC).

Limited participation, register now!

Participation will be limited to 100 guests; cost $50 per person. There will be several scientists, engineers, educators and students attending to mingle with the guests to discuss SKYNET, our participation in SKYNET and the plans we have to restore Yerkes telescopes. If weather permits, guests will also be invited to do some stargazing through the Yerkes great refractor. Wear warm clothes (domes are not heated) and shoes appropriate for climbing narrow stairs; flashlights are suggested as well.

It is our hope to find benefactors among the guests who will be interested in a contribution beyond the initial $50.

Name___________________________________________ Address___________________________________________ City______________________________ State _____________ Zip__________ YES, _____________ Person(s) will attend @ $50 per person

Check enclosed for $_________________

Checks payable to: University of Chicago, Yerkes Observatory
Send checks to Yerkes Observatory, 373 W. Geneva Street, Williams Bay, WI 53191 Additional information, phone: 262-245-5555, fax: 262-245-9805
You may also register online at http://astro.uchicago.edu/yerkes/yo_feb24/index.html 

BACK AGAIN! February 9, 2012

Posted by jcconwell in Asteroid, Astronomers, Astronomy.
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It’s been a busy two months. The end of one semester the beginning of a new semester, but I wanted to share a bit of good news for myself. I’m now official part of the solar system, While there have been some people who wished they could send me into orbit the picture,as you can see below, does not quite mean I’m there yet.


It does mean I’ve just got an asteroid named after me! It’ s a main belt asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, with a maximum magnitude of 15. My thanks to Robert Holmes, director of the ARI observatory,  and an adjunct faculty member in the physics department at EIU, who discovered the asteroid and did the naming.

The official designation is 128925 Conwell or 2004 TJ70. You can see more information on this asteroid at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) site: