Bruce BettsJul 11, 2006

Telescope shows its Amazing Capabilities

During a few observation sessions in late April, the new Optical SETI Telescope was already demonstrating its amazing capabilities. Over three nights, the telescope completed 17 hours of observation, under the direction of Paul Horowitz and his team of Harvard graduate students. During that time, the telescope observed 1% of the sky, looking for the briefest flashes of light coming from outer space. This translates to 1000 times the sky area covered by Horowitz's Optical SETI targeted search, and 200 times the number of stars observed! To put this in perspective, recall that the new telescope surveyed the etskies for three nights; the targeted search operated for six years.

The chief beneficiary of the three nights of intensive observations was Andrew Howard who, among his many contributions to the project, designed the electronic chips used in the telescope's detectors. Andrew, who started out as Horowitz's grad student, needed the data to complete his doctoral dissertation on optical SETI. The observations were carried out manually, with Horowitz and his grad students taking turns in manning the observatory control room throughout each night. The team is still working on fully automating the telescope, so that it can observe each and every clear night, without the need for human supervision. This might take a bit longer than originally expected, because of a technical hitch that arose along the way: Andrew is getting married.

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