In Charles Town, WV, a 650-pound telescope with a mirror that is two feet across sits atop the APUS Information Technology building. The Planewave CDK24 telescope, equipped with a highly sophisticated digital camera, is a key technological component in the university's astronomy curriculum. This fully remote-controlled telescope ties closely into the university's philosophy of providing innovative online instruction. The telescope is utilized by faculty and students in the university's Department of Space Studies for original astronomical education and research purposes.
"At most universities, telescopes are only accessible by traveling to the university's observatory to look through the instrument,” states Space Studies Program Director Dr. Ed Albin. "But at APUS, students link remotely to our telescope and work with faculty online to learn how to acquire images of the Moon, stars, and planets that can be downloaded to their computers."
Collected imagery is used in the classroom and for laboratory instruction by faculty. Graduate-level students can also collect original telescopic data for their own research and thesis projects. Examples of ongoing investigations with the telescope include observations of exoplanet transits and variable star photometry.
When not in use for specific observing projects, the telescope can be scripted to conduct autonomous supernova searches by patrolling dozens of galaxies each night. One goal is to have the instrument scheduled for continuous observing of the heavens throughout the year on all clear evenings. "We're not just going to websites and pulling down images for our astronomy students. We're using the observatory to collect our own research data," says Dr. Albin.
“We are one of a few online universities with a Space Studies program that operate such a large telescope. This gives our students a very nice edge when it comes to graduating and entering the career field," states Dr. Albin.
Very few space studies degrees match the breadth and scope of the university's innovative online program, which attracts individuals from a variety of professions related to NASA, the U.S. intelligence community, government agencies, general education, science, and military sectors. The curriculum was originally designed by former NASA astronaut Dr. James Reilly, veteran of three shuttle missions and five spacewalks.
Dr. Albin has worked in astronomy for about 30 years. "Having taught both in the brick‑and‑mortar university and also online, I'm finding as the technology gets better and better, especially with our telescope, there's no need to be up in an observatory or at a remote mountain top in order to acquire data.”
The APUS Technology Building with observatory dome, located in Charles Town, WV.
A view of the telescope inside the dome.
Images produced by the telescope.
Dr. Ed Albin controls the telescope from his computer.