Lowell, Discovery Channel Telescope featured in new documentary
By Daniel Daw Follow @DmDaw24
Lowell observatory and the Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) will be featured on the Discovery Channel Sunday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. EST and PST.
“Scanning the Skies: The Discovery Channel Telescope” will focus on the planning and construction of this state-of-the-art telescope. According to a Discovery press release, the documentary will feature interviews with Jeff Hall, Director of Lowell Observatory, and other Lowell astronomers about their mission to “bring the latest discoveries from our solar system into every living room, classroom and social networking site.”
The partnership between Lowell Observatory and the Discovery Channel began around a decade ago. Hall has gone on the record to say they have wanted to build a telescope of this caliber for around 20 years, and the partnership with Discovery has finally made it possible.
“We’ve been talking about building a large telescope here at Lowell for about as long as I’ve been here, which is 20 years, and we originally called it the Next Generation Lowell Telescope, the working name for the project,” Hall said. “Raising the funds was kind of the stumbling block. It was about 10 years ago that John Hendricks — who is the founder and former CEO of Discovery who has long been a member of our trustees advisory board – proposed the partnership where Discovery would kick in 10 million and, Mr. Hendricks, another million from his family’s foundation, in return for naming rights to the telescope and first rights to use the data that we collect with the telescope for their educational purposes. So, that got the ball rolling and started this partnership that has now come to fruition.”
The telescope is intended to feed videos, pictures and research to schools around the world. It would also allow astronomers a platform in which they can show the world what they are doing in terms of research.
“Through its partnerships with school districts worldwide, Discovery Education will provide teachers with lesson plans and resources to ignite students’ curiosity and help them learn about astronomy and science,” Discovery said in a press release.
Hall noted the telescope will help with Lowell’s primary mission, research and it will help to gain outreach.
“It’s an opportunity for our astronomers to talk about not only what we do, but how we do science [and] how the scientific method works,” Hall said. “[Sending those] to the Discovery Education Networks, I should say, that reaches a huge number of schools. That gives [us] a tremendous chance for Lowell’s mission of doing research, which is the centerpiece of our mission [and] outreach.”
According to Lisa Prato, Lowell astronomer, the educational opportunities the DCT will provide are not limited to the raw data and video from the telescope.
“This is a terrific opportunity to introduce science, via the excitement of astronomy, into the classroom,” Prato said. “It will show kids what real science is like, and who is doing it. There is still a knee-jerk reaction in our society for children, when asked to describe a scientist, paint a picture of an elderly Caucasian male in a white lab coat, in spite of all the progress and the surging numbers of women and minorities in many fields. Seeing real scientists doing real science should be a revelation to kids all over the country. If it doesn’t inspire them to be more open to and curious about science, it should at least leave them far more savvy about what science is and how it’s done.”
The DCT will be utilized in multiple disciplines of astronomy, having been built to be used in varying projects.
“Our former director, Bob Millis, called it the ‘Swiss Army Knife of telescopes’,” Hall said. “It’s not designed to do one thing perfectly, but it is designed to a wide range of projects very well and that makes it able to accommodate a diverse array of research projects — from solar system and planetary astronomy to stellar and extragalactic [astronomy]. It certainly fits our science staff well because we have 20 astronomers who do all kinds of research, spanning all of astrophysics.”
According to Prato, much of the research at Lowell fits under the larger category of various celestial body formation.
“Although originally, over a decade ago, there was some emphasis on solar system astronomy planned for the DCT, that has been replaced by the more general theme of Origins – how do planets form, particularly ones like our own? How do stars form? How do galaxies form? Most astronomers at Lowell work on problems related to Origins,” Prato said.
Hall contributed optimistically, saying, “There is big, exciting stuff coming out of [the DCT] after the show airs.”