Frequently Asked Questions
The observatory collects frequently asked questions through the series of Open House Nights it hosts. Selected FAQs are posted in the observatory lobby, and the complete list is here.
Why are the lights around here all red?
The lights on the observatory deck, control room, and in the dome are red in order to provide enough light to see what you are doing, while the red lights still allow your eyes to stay adjusted to the dark for better night vision.
What is the magnifying power of the telescope?
The magnification depends on what eyepiece we are using with the telescope. The telescope forms the image and the eyepiece magnifies that image. With the eyepiece we usually use for viewing, the magnification for our 24-inch telescope is between 100 and 150. The most important function of a telescope is to act as a "light bucket" by capturing the light from a star. The light collection area is even more important than the magnification.
What are the faintest objects we can see through the telescope?
The 24-inch mirror of the telescope collects about 10,000 times more light than the pupil of the eye, so with the telescope we can see objects about 10,000 times fainter.
What does it mean when we refer to the North Star? How do we find it?
Polaris, the North Star, holds this name because it is almost directly above the North Pole of the Earth. To find Polaris, locate the Big Dipper and draw a straight line between the last two stars in the dipper's cup and follow the line straight to the start of the Little Dipper's Handle. That star is Polaris! Check the diagram to the right.
Since the stars are moving across the sky, how does the telescope stay focused on an object?
The telescope needs to be moved gradually in order to keep the current object in the field of view because due to the earth's rotation, objects in the sky appear to move across our field of view. Just like the sun, stars enter our field of view from the east and exit to the west. Computer controls keep the telescope tracking at precisely the right rate to keep the star in the field of view.
How much did the 24-inch DFM Engineering telescope cost and where did the money come from?
The 24-inch telescope that occupies the dome cost about $250,000. The money we used to buy the telescope came in roughly equal parts from the National Science Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and contributions from individuals.
Do you mean that the telescope can't see through clouds?
The telescope acts as a "light bucket" that enables us to see faint or distant objects that are not visible with the naked eye, but if the stars are not visible due to cloud cover then they will not be visible through the telescope. The telescope will only magnify the clouds, it does not enable us to see through them.
Where do I look? How do I look?
To look through the telescopes place one eye up to, but not touching, the eyepiece. Many people find it helpful to close the other eye. With one eye looking through the eyepiece, you should be able to clearly see the object that the telescope is tracking. If you need glasses for distant vision, you might want to keep your glasses on while viewing the stars; otherwise removing them will be more comfortable.