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Imagine an astronomical observatory that enables world-class fundamental research, creates opportunities for student and scientists and brings the beauty of the cosmos to people everywhere.

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With some of the darkest and clearest night skies in the contiguous United States, Great Basin National Park is an ideal location for an astronomical observatory. A telescope located here can be smaller—and much less expensive—than other research telescopes, making the project a very effective investment.

 Learn more about the Observatory, visit greatbasinobservatory.org

The University of Nevada Reno (UNR) and Western Nevada College (WNC)–two Nevada System of Higher Education campuses– along with Great Basin National Park (GRBA) and the Great Basin National Park Foundation (GB Foundation) have formed a partnership to build and operate a world class robotic astronomical observatory. The Great Basin Observatory (GBO) will be a research/educational facility.  Its most common clients would be students, research teams, and science departments of smaller four year universities. Academic departments which cannot offer astronomy degrees because of a lack of research facilities would be able to utilize the GBO to add new educational paths for their students.

One significant aspect of this observatory is the clients will not have to be physically present at GRBA in order to use the telescope and obtain data.  The client would submit a target plan and our software could automatically, and autonomously, schedule and acquire the data at the appropriate time.  After the target data are acquired the operations group would simply email researchers their data image files.  The operations group would have network access and full control of operations of the observatory from any laptop or desktop computer without special software needs.

The Park lies within one of the last remaining dark-sky regions of the contiguous United States. The exceptional quality and darkness of the Park’s skies and remote access implementation of the GBO mean that researchers worldwide can obtain significant observations and data with moderate size facilities. As the first astronomical observatory in a national park, the GBO will help raise public awareness that dark night skies are a fast disappearing natural resource worthy of preservation.

The GBO has two primary goals: 1) conduct astronomical research and 2) educate students at all levels. Dr. Michael Strauss, Associate Chair of Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences, believes the GBO “will be a superb resource for astronomy education…” and “a prime facility for discovering and studying in detail variable, transient, and moving objects in the heavens.”  Dr. David Bennum (recent Chair of the UNR Physics Department) states that his department “has a minor in astronomy which attracts from disciplines in education, journalism, computer science etc., with courses for undergraduates that develop research skills in astrophysics.

If the GBO becomes a reality we would be able to open an undergraduate major track in astrophysics, engage K-12 science teachers/students in research in astronomy, and offer interdisciplinary research opportunities for both STEM and liberal arts majors encouraging high quality publishing efforts at undergraduate level.”

Primary personnel for the GBO are Dr. David Bennum and Dr. Melodi Rodrigue (UNR), Dr. Tyler Nordgren (Redlands University and the GB Foundation), Dr. Thomas Herring (WNC), and Kelly Carroll (GRBA).

The budget of $481,000 includes a Planewave CDK700 telescope, Andor Research Grade camera, and SBIG Sti Monochrome Guide camera with their accessories -–totaling $250,000; in addition an Astrohaven 12 foot dome, site preparation, weather monitoring, software, computers, power and data equipment, and 1 years of operation/ maintenance.  The fundraising goal of $700,000 provides greater investment in future operation and maintenance.  $100,000 has already been donated by the Great Basin National Heritage Partnership as a matching grant. $25,000 has been pledged by a Board member.

*Image courtesy of Great Basin National Park, National Park Service