Abstract Details

Title: The 1.3-m Robotically Controlled Telescope (RCT) at Kitt Peak - A Fifty year old dream Realized: Telescope Characteristics, Current Research and Education Progr

Authors: Edward Guinan, Richard Gelderman, Louis Strolger, Michael Carini, Charles Mc Gruder, Rachel Campbell, Donald Walter, Donald Davis, Edward Tedesco, Scott Engle

Institute/Affiliation: Villanova University and RCT Consortium

Abstract Type: talk

Abstract Information:

The 1.3 m Robotically Controlled Telescope (RCT) on Kitt Peak has a rich history, including its role as a prototype for remotely controlled telescopes during the 1960s. As such, the RCT could be considered one of the first - Telescopes from Afar. The telescope, originally called the Remotely Controlled Telescope, has been renamed the Robotically Controlled Telescope to reflect the change in operational control and mode of use. The RCT was a conceptual precursor of today\'s robotic telescopes, but the actual operation of a remotely controlled telescope was technologically premature for its time, and was subsequently manually operated primarily to conduct optical and infrared observations as well being used as a test bed for new spectroscopic and photometric instruments. In 1995 budget constraints forced the closing of the telescope as part of the Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO), following nearly 30 years of distinguished service to KPNO. A request for proposals to operate this telescope was issued to the science community. The RCT consortium, lead by Western Kentucky University, was the successful proposer for operation of the telescope. After several difficult years of retrofitting, refurbishing, and automating the telecope and observatory dome, the telescope has returned to routine science operations in November 2009. The RCT has operated smoothly since that time, with no major interruptions.

Observations of objects of interest to the consortium partners (including: comets & asteroids, variable & binary stars, exoplanets, supernovae, quasars & blazars) are being routinely obtained and evaluated. One of the distinguishing features of the RCT is that it is an autonomous observatory designed to handle diverse optical imaging and photometry programs. These include being able to automatically deal with a wide range of observing parameters such as -integration time, sky conditions, repetitions, return visits, filters, air mass, non-sidereal objects, transients etc.) A brief description of the RCT and its capabilities are given, along with discussions of some examples of diverse (and innovative) science and education programs being carried out. Future plans and possible collaborative programs will also be discussed.

The RCT is operated by a consortium of institutions lead by Western Kentucky University and include South Carolina State University, the Planetary Science Institute, and Villanova University. Operation of the RCT and support of the science and education programs have been provided (in part) by grants from NASA and NSF which we gratefully acknowledge.