Images of Space

An Astronomical Arrival at Westmont

A huge crane lowered a 24-inch reflector telescope into Westmont's Observatory Tuesday, April 24. The new high-tech telescope will be one of the most powerful on California's Central Coast.

Physics Professors Ken Kihlstrom, Warren Rogers and Michael Sommermann have been anxiously waiting for the telescope while DFM Engineering in Colorado spent a year fine tuning the powerful F/8 Cassegrain instrument with Ritchey-Chretien optics.

For the past 50 years, Westmont has been using a 16-inch telescope, but the new instrument will gather twice the amount of light with nearly twice the resolving power.

"The telescope will be a magnet for astronomy enthusiasts around Santa Barbara and the South Coast," says Sommermann. "It will become a focal point for astronomical research by faculty and students in areas such as the photometry of variable stars, minor planet observations and much more."

The college has already remodeled the observatory for the new computer-controlled telescope which will be more securely mounted to take extended exposure photography. Viewing will take place in a room below the telescope.

Thanks to the $635,000 project, faculty and students will conduct astronomical research and the observatory will be open for monthly public viewings. The W. M. Keck Foundation awarded Westmont a $300,000 grant for the telescope. The James L. Stamps Foundation also gave $90,000 for the project. College officials are raising the remaining funds.

Westmont serves as one of the observing sites for the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit (S.B.A.U.). Every third Friday of the month, the S.B.A.U. holds public viewings at the observatory. The upgraded facilities will also provide new opportunities for outreach to children and students in Santa Barbara schools and the community.