Campus: Sonoma State -- February 6, 2006

SSU Makes Plans for 1-Meter Telescope

The dark skies at the Galbreath Wildland Preserve in Mendocino County may someday soon be scanned by a telescope able to see distant galaxies thanks to a matching grant of $700,000 made to Sonoma State University.

Bob and Sue Johnson of Pacific Grove - two of the donors from the Fred B. Galbreath Trust who helped make the $8 million Preserve possible for SSU - recently donated the seed money for the construction of an observatory that Sonoma State University officials hope will be the home in several years of a $1 million 1-meter world-class research telescope.

SSU plans to apply for grants and find other partners to fund the purchase of the telescope and other sophisticated instruments that will be some of the largest and most advanced in the California State University system. The proposed new telescope will significantly increase SSU's capability for research and outreach to students and educational institutions well beyond the North Bay region.

The Johnsons donated the funds in honor of Jean Galbreath, the wife of the man for whom the Preserve was named, Fred B. Galbreath, because "she was big part of that ranch for many years."

"She could talk about all of the constellations and could name all the stars for you. She was a full blown naturalist. She could name every plant on the ranch," Johnson said.

Thanks to the 2,200 foot elevation, between 6,000 and 9,000 stars as well as nearby galaxies and globular clusters can be seen with the unaided eye in the dark skies of the 3,670 acre Preserve. Parts of the Milky Way are so bright that they cast a shadow.

A 1-meter telescope is more than 25,000 times as powerful as the unaided human eye. The Galbreath telescope will be robotically controlled using the Internet so that no one will need to be present at the Preserve when the telescope is operated.

In addition to research, it will also support instruction in astronomy (plus science and math education in general) for K-12, undergraduate and graduate students.

School of Science and Technology Dean Saeid Rahimi hopes the Galbreath facility will be the entry point for developing increased interest in math and science among students of all ages.

"The instrumentation would be capable of supporting the needs and desires of the next generation of faculty and students," says Rahimi. "You could discover a new planet with this size telescope," he says.

This semester SSU will establish a weather station and cloud sensor at the site. Construction is likely to begin on the building housing the observatory in the next year or two using the most current "green building" techniques. It will operate by some alternative energy method such as solar.

For 30 years, the campus has had an on-campus observatory with 14-inch and 10-inch telescopes. SSU also currently operates a 14-inch robotic telescope with NASA and the California Academy of Science at its Pepperwood Preserve several miles northeast of Windsor. Students conduct research via the Internet in areas ranging from active galaxy surveillance, gamma ray burst follow-up and discovery of extra-solar planetary systems.

Dr. Gordon Spear, director of the SSU campus observatory, has been named the project leader for the design and instrumentation of the Galbreath observatory and is working with a team of faculty and staff to develop the project.

Contact: Jean Wasp, Media Relations Coordinator, (707) 664-2057


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