The NSF-funded Northwest Indiana Robotic (NIRo) Telescope is a project designed to bring first-rate astronomical research and project-oriented science education to Purdue University Northwest (PNW) and the surrounding school districts and communities. The NIRo Telescope, a 20-inch advanced Ritchey-Chrétien reflecting telescope with a wide-field CCD imager, is intended primarily for remote, unattended observing and is housed in a dedicated observatory at the Calumet Astronomy Center (CAC) in Lowell, IN.
What the NIRo Telescope Provides
As envisioned, the NIRo Telescope provides:
- a platform for high-quality undergraduate research and education at PNW
- a variety of community outreach opportunities in cooperation with the LCPRD and the CAS.
Value to Students and Faculty
The NIRo Telescope is being used to increase the body of current astronomical knowledge through high-quality research and also to improve course and laboratory curricula at PNW in several ways:
- high-quality research projects for undergraduates,
- the development of new, upper-level astrophysics courses, and
- the implementation of introductory- to intermediate-level lab experiments for our existent astronomy and physics courses.
Physics majors at PNW receive direct, hands-on, observational experience that may not otherwise become available to them until well into their graduate careers.
There are numerous research projects ready for immediate implementation under the guidance of PNW faculty. These research projects provide results suitable for peer-reviewed publication and all take advantage of the NIRo Telescope’s operational model. With a strategic queuing system and year-round access, it is an ideal facility from which to study systems that change over time, either in brightness or in position.
Examples of such projects ready for immediate implementation include
- monitoring nearby stars with known planetary systems for transit events, adding data to the intensely debated field of planetary formation theory;
- tracking variability in so-called ‘blue straggler’ stars in open clusters, adding important data to the study of their formation, structure, and dynamical histories;
- using the variability of quasars to refine time-series analysis algorithms and to investigate the central engine physics of quasars and other active galactic nuclei;
- monitoring near-Earth and potentially hazardous asteroids, comparing predicted and actual orbital trajectories and reporting new observations to the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
In addition to these research projects, students will have the opportunity to develop new observing campaigns under the guidance of the PNW astronomy faculty.
The NIRo Telescope also enhance the current physics and astronomy courses at PNW via direct access to astronomical data, new laboratory experiments, on-site visits, and casual observation sessions. A new, upper-level course in modern observational techniques will also be developed. In addition, the data, images, and research results will be placed and maintained on a dedicated website, giving access to a much larger audience.
Collaboration with the Community
PNW astronomers have collaborated with the CAS and LCPRD in community outreach projects, such as nighttime viewing sessions, public talks, and on-site, summer youth astronomy camps. During its inaugural year, the LCPRD Youth Astronomy Camp saw 40 children from Lake and Porter counties in Indiana and Cook county in Illinois participate in four observing and informal education sessions organized by CAS members and PNW faculty at Buckley Homestead.