Located high in the Sangre de Cristo Range of the New Mexico Rocky Mountains, this automated research grade astronomical observatory helps bring real time astronomy to colleges, universities, and the general public.
The Observatory is designed to protect the telescope, imaging system, and computer components from a variety of high mountain weather conditions.
Mount Sangre Observatory's fully automated self guiding Meade 14 inch LX600 fork mount reflecting telescope is mounted on a vertically adjustable Pier Tech III mount that can be raised or lowered to accommodate the observer's height or for maintenance purposes. This reflecting telescope is a hybrid of a folded light (catadioptric) instrument called an SCT (Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope). It has a spherical primary and a convex secondary mirror with a focal ratio of F8. A raised wooden catwalk surrounds the telescope allowing observers to comfortably reach the two story structure inside the observatory.
A sophisticated imaging system can be added to the telescope's visual back to allow scientific research of the Milky Way's galactic neighborhood as well as objects hundreds of millions of light years away.
The imaging system is state of the art and includes a sensitive cooled Camera, Filter Wheel, Auto Guider, and Adaptive Optics. The Filter Wheel allows study of visual, infrared, hydrogen alpha, and oxygen III wavelengths. It also is equipped with a diffraction gradient for spectroscopy. The diffraction gradient spreads out the light signature of a star which reveals absorption lines of the various elements in the star's upper atmosphere. The Auto Guider is a smaller wide field camera that tracks a star in the field of view through an electrical interface with the telescope's drive motors. The Adaptive Optics system mitigates atmospheric turbulence effectively "removing" the effects of Earth's atmosphere from the telescope's optical system. It has a vibrating optical surface that reacts to changes in a shifting (1 Hz to 10 Hz) star image sensed through the Auto Guider. This projects a more steady image in the optical path to the camera's KAF 16803 (16.8 megapixel) CCD chip.
The following images are an example of how the imaging system works to produce a blended color picture of a celestial object:
This is a 30 second exposure in blue light of a distant (3.3 million light years) galaxy (M33) in our local group (galaxies close enough together to gravitationally interact as a cluster).
This is a 30 second exposure of the same galaxy through a red light filter. Notice it's brighter and you can see more detail.
Here's M33 in a 30 second exposure through a visual (sort of yellow/green) filter. The different wavelengths of light highlight various parts of this galaxy depending on the intensity of light emissions coming from the stars and heated gas contained in it. Each of these three images is in monochrome because white is the only visible light that the CCD chip can detect. It can also detect Infrared, hydrogen alpha, and oxygen III light, but I elected not to image M33 in those wavelengths for simplicity.
This is the color combined (stacked) processed image of the previous three images of M33. A program assigns colors to the image based on the light intensity detected through each of the filters. It's not a true color image. As a matter of fact, I should've increased the exposure time of the blue image and decreased the exposure of the red image. That would produce less of the red background color you see in this final product. The "pretty pictures" through RGB (Red-Green-Blue) filters are pleasing to the eye, but BVRI (Blue-Visual-Red-Infrared) filters are what research scientists prefer because they allow for more in depth study of the light emitted from deep space objects.