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Cerro Tololo telescope images

Astronomy students set sights on space

Students from LTHS astronomy classes got up close and personal with astronomical objects as they maneuvered telescopes at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile to take images of various objects in space.

Students were able to access the Chilean telescopes thanks to astronomy teacher Kevin Murphy and his connections with an astronomy professor at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (UNC). The university built six special-purpose telescopes at the Chilean Observatory in the Andes. These telescopes, called PROMPT, were designed to identify and study the most distant objects in the universe. The telescopes are accessed remotely through the SkyNet Robotic Telescope Network. Students plug in coordinates of the object they want to capture and the request is put in a queue. The UNC professor generously gave Murphy time on the telescope so that LT students could capture objects.

The astro-photographs are taken by a robotic telescope system. The black and white images can then be colorized by adjusting the amount of red, green and blue in the camera filter. While color cannot be seen in space, students use their imagination and add color to the captured object and surrounding gases.

Murphy says, “The days of peering thru a telescope up at the sky are nearly obsolete. I wanted students to learn about the sophisticated technology that exists today. LT is fortunate to have been granted time on a telescope at one of the premier observatories in the world.” Murphy added that LT is one of the few high schools to offer astronomy, and it’s offered for college credit.

Senior Alexander Barrett, of LaGrange, who is considering study physics and/or astronomy, said, “The photos were amazing. I hope we get to do this again in the spring. There will be a different night sky and I’d like to take a photo of the Sombrero galaxy.”


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