Project Summary

April 2017 Update

Dr. Saganti has created a website to share ideas and images, and to facilitate discussions on the observatory expansion project at Prairie View A&M University. The website https://sites.google.com/view/saganti-astro/home has lots of images, ideas, plans, proposals, etc. on how the final product could look. At this point we plan to refurbish the existing Solar Observatory and add two piers with supporting infrastructure to mount two Meade’s as our primary instruments. If everything goes extremely well, we could see first light by the fall of 2018. The work may proceed in two phases: the refurbishing of the present Solar Observatory, and the construction of the two additional domes and common housing to enclose all three, with a meeting room, control room, and storage room included. Once the observatory expansion is complete, some of the instruments pictured below will be moved over to the building for storage and use with classes and labs. For the latest in the first phase process, visit the solar observatory page. The expansion project will include the construction of two domes to house the Meade 14-inch and the Meade 16-inch telescopes and will be located on either side (east and west) of the existing solar observatory structure. Work is underway to secure needed approvals and do the needed steps in order to begin work.

IMAG1253 IMAG1260 IMAG1261

Three of our primary instruments are shown above: (from left to right), a Takahashi 5-inch refractor, a NexStar 11-inch Cassegrain and a Meade 14-inch LX 850 Cassegrain.

This is our fifth year of Title III funding which will be used for the observatory upgrades and additions. The CRI / RaISE (Chancellor’s Research Initiative / Radiation Institute for Science and Engineering) has been completed and is actively doing research; the Prairie View Observatory is next in line to be worked on. Mr. Cudnik, along with Drs. Saganti, Bentley, Erickson, and Aluka, will be re-evaluating the various activities and exercises in our inventory to explore classroom activity utilizing these Title III resources. We have already used Title-III purchased equipment to show the sun safely to 15 students of Mr. Cudnik’s Introduction to Atmospheric Science in the Spring of 2016; we also had 15 students look at the Sun during the May 9 Mercury Transit and many members of Dr. Bentley’s family enjoyed safe views of the sun back on July 15.

Since early 2014 we had effectively put the observatory project on hold due to activities related to the Chancellor’s Research Initiative (CRI) project activities (Radiation Biology Physics) and collaboration with people working on Shinen-2, a spacecraft which launched from Japan in December 2014.

Astronomy is not only a very fascinating area of science but it is also an exciting area of study for many undergraduate students around the world. Many physics departments across the nation traditionally identified as “physics and astronomy departments” and this is true for many institutions in the State of Texas as well. Technology useful for scientific quality astronomical data has become available to the masses, and universities also benefit in that they are able to establish an activity involving “real” astronomy at relatively low cost. Within the Physics Program at Prairie View A&M University, an astronomy component is being established with our current expertise in astronomy, and help from Title III funding. Our activity, “Astronomy and Astrophysics Imaging at Prairie View A&M University” promises to bring to our Physics majors and minors, as well as all of our physics and physical science students an opportunity to become involved in a rewarding activity that is “out of this world”. We have a list of potential projects that students can be involved in and have already established a “Center for Astronomical Sciences and Technologies” (CAST) laboratory in room 325 in the E.E. O’Banion (New) Science Building.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of physics majors at PVAMU. We currently have 16 physics majors including double majors. As such we need a support structure (in terms of academic excellence and research opportunities) for these majors to complete their degrees and astronomy component is a popular and a competitive aspect of this structure. In addition to serve our existing majors, implementing and increasing an astronomical presence within the program will appeal to a broader audience: education majors planning to teach science, chemistry majors looking for another application for their subject area including spectroscopic applications, visiting teachers and students (e.g. summer programs, academic year visits from Texas schools, etc.) and future physics majors. Astronomy has a certain draw to it that attracts more people to the physical sciences and we would like to use that to not only attract more people to the program, but also to provide another resource for these students to gain practical, hands-on experience in a physical science that is literally “out of this world.”

As a central part of this activity, we plan to erect a small observatory to serve as a multi-faceted, primarily nighttime (but with a daytime, solar component) teaching-learning-research observatory that will be used by science students in collaboration with existing and future research projects. A preliminary site has been selected on campus for a facility whose primary purpose will be for teaching and outreach, although initially it will be available for basic research and observation projects. Some examples of these projects include senior research and capstone requirements of majors as well as the lunar mission LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) that is now underway. NASA-Ames research center (the institution in charge of LADEE) has requested collaboration between their program and our physics majors and a web based conference will happen on December 5 for coordinators and participants.

With the planned activities and upgrades, along with our present accomplishments, we are progressing to gain nationwide recognition needed for our department and students. With this proposed expansion and augmentation of astronomy component through teaching and laboratory resources we are certain to reach the pinnacle of recognition deserved for an undergraduate and minority serving institution.

Spacecraft Status Updates

There are lots of automated, robotic, unmanned spacecraft exploring various parts of the solar system, galaxy, and universe. DISCLAIMER: All are doing the exploration from within our local solar system, with the exception of Voyager 1 (and this only from a fields and particles perspective) none of our spacecraft have left the solar system.

NASA PhotoJournal Repository of Lunar and Planetary Images: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/main/index.html

Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ladee/main/#.UtAZKdJDt8F

Curiosity Mars Rover:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

All Mars Missions: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/

Venus Express:  http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Venus_Express

Akatsuki Venus Climate Orbiter (Japan): http://global.jaxa.jp/countdown/f17/index_e.html

MESSENGER at Mercury:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/main/index.html

Solar Dynamics Observatory:  http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/

STEREO (Solar Observing Spacecraft):  http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/

Dawn at the dwarf planet Ceres:  http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/

Juno at Jupiter: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/juno/main/index.html

Cassini at Saturn:  http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/

New Horizons Pluto / Kuiper Belt Exploration: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/

Hubble Space Telescope: http://hubblesite.org/

GAIA (search for Earth-like worlds): http://sci.esa.int/gaia/

Project Status archives: (updates Spring 2013)

We are in the first year of a five year activity cycle and have made purchases of many pieces of state-of-the-art equipment. We will be providing images soon of some of this equipment. One of the first significant pieces of equipment is a “Solar Max” Coronado 90 mm Hydrogen-alpha solar telescope, which will enable detailed study of the activity on the sun’s disk. With a video connection and laptop, we will be able to display the sun for entire classes to see at once. Also we have the capability right now to image the Sun and bright nighttime celestial objects, one of the purposes of which is providing activities for our majors to use for their Senior Research Projects.

One project we plan to start over the summer is monitoring the moon for meteoroid impacts. More on this project will be forth coming but information on the monitoring of meteoroid impacts can be found on the web page of the Lunar Meteoroid Impact Search Section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, http://www.alpo-astronomy.org . The primary instrument for this work will be a Meade 14-inch telescope and will be used for up to 5 days twice per month, weather permitting.

Dr. Saganti is working with a colleague from NASA-Johnson Space Center, Mr. Doug Holland, to test and validate a new scientific-grade detector that uses CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology. A number of images have been produced and published online at http://www.holland-observatory.net/recent/.

We are awaiting the arrival of a Meade LX 200 16-inch scope. This instrument will be for planetary and deep astronomy; one project involves the monitoring of Jupiter for meteors in its atmosphere as several have been reported with identically-sized instruments in recent years. In the meantime, software and hardware essential for these projects are being acquired and observations will be scheduled, involving students as much as possible.

Check back as this site will be updated regularly with accomplishments and activities as time passes. We hope to get our computing environment set up over spring break so as to be able to process images; some additional hardware for lunar meteor impact work will be purchased in the near term and activities in conjunction with the Astronomy and Astrophysics class that Mr. Cudnik is currently teaching will be defined and tested during the second half of the semester

We are in the first year of a five year activity cycle and have made purchases of many pieces of state-of-the-art equipment. We will be providing images soon of some of this equipment. One of the first significant pieces of equipment is a “Solar Max” Coronado 90 mm Hydrogen-alpha solar telescope, which will enable detailed study of the activity on the sun’s disk. With a video connection and laptop, we will be able to display the sun for entire classes to see at once. Also we have the capability right now to image the Sun and bright nighttime celestial objects, one of the purposes of which is providing activities for our majors to use for their Senior Research Projects.

Dr. Saganti is working with a colleague from NASA-Johnson Space Center, Mr. Doug Holland, to test and validate a new scientific-grade detector that uses CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) technology. A number of images have been produced and published online at http://www.holland-observatory.net/recent/.

We are awaiting the arrival of two medium-sized telescopes, expected sometime around Spring Break. They include a Meade 14-inch and a Meade LX 200 16-inch scope. The former will be used for lunar meteor impact monitoring which will happen twice per month for five-day stretches, weather permitting, starting in April. The Meade LX 200 16-inch scope will be for planetary and deep astronomy; one project involves the monitoring of Jupiter for meteors in its atmosphere as several have been reported with identically-sized instruments in recent years. In the meantime, software and hardware essential for these projects are being acquired and observations will be scheduled, involving students as much as possible.

Check back as this site will be updated regularly with accomplishments and activities as time passes. We hope to get our computing environment set up over spring break so as to be able to process images; some additional hardware for lunar meteor impact work will be purchased in the near term and activities in conjunction with the Astronomy and Astrophysics class that Mr. Cudnik is currently teaching will be defined and tested during the second half of the semester.