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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)

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!

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.


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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.


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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 

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.

OPEN HOUSE TONIGHT! October 28, 2011

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EIU Observatory

Come to the annual HAUNTED OBSERVATORY at 8:00PM tonight we ring the observatory with Jack-o-Lanterns. While it’s so scary the 16″ telescope left the building…we will still have the smaller telescopes out and various star-fleet command types manning them. Also you’ll get to speak to real mad scientists…not the facke ones in the movies. So come on by at 8:00….there may even be candy!

Astronomy Club tonight! October 26, 2011

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Room 2153 in the physical science building at 8:00PM, we will be preparing for the annual Halloween open house at the observatory. Tonight bring all your pumpkin  carving skills, we are making enough Jack -O’Lanterns to ring the observatory on Friday.