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University of Iowa News Release


May 29, 2008

UI upgrade of Iowa Robotic Telescope yields beautiful results

You don't have to be a rocket scientist -- just a student -- to appreciate the recent completion of a project to upgrade the Iowa Robotic Telescope during the 2007-08 academic year, according to a University of Iowa professor.

Completed during fall 2007 with $25,000 provided by the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), the upgrade project means that the telescope -- located in southern Arizona and operated remotely by faculty and students on the UI campus in Iowa City -- will continue to be a state-of-the-art teaching tool. Since its initiation in 1991, more than 8,000 graduate and undergraduate students have used the telescope facility. The Iowa Robotic Telescope is located at the Winer Observatory in Sonoita, Ariz., and consists of a 14.5-inch diameter classical Cassegrain reflector, a nine-megapixel CCD camera, and a seven-position filter wheel.

The upgrade enhances the telescope's usefulness for all students, according to Robert Mutel, professor of astronomy in the University of Iowa CLAS Department of Physics and Astronomy.

"The recent instrument upgrades have dramatically improved the sensitivity, stability, and imaging capabilities of the Iowa Robotic Observatory," Mutel said. This unique facility allows hundreds of students access to a professional-grade research telescope located at a dark site with excellent weather all year. The resulting images rival those from much larger professional observatories and provide a wide range of exciting opportunities for students to participate in meaningful scientific research.

Mutel noted that the development of robotic telescopes for education was pioneered at the University of Iowa. He added that the telescope, which has dramatically improved in reliability and image quality over the past few years, will further advance educational opportunity in the future.

"In the near future, it will be possible to operate a global network of robotic telescopes, which will allow real-time observations during daytime laboratories using telescopes on the night side of the planet. This technology promises to revolutionize the teaching of astronomy in a wide variety of settings, ranging from junior high schools to universities," he said.

Mutel, a CLAS faculty member since 1975, has research interests that include the study of radio jets from super massive black holes, radio emissions from the Earth's magnetosphere, and maser emissions (naturally occurring, stimulated spectral phenomena) from stars and star formation regions.

The IRO homepage, which includes an image of the Rosette nebula created by UI students using the Iowa Robotic Telescope (above), is located at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,