The W.M. Keck Observatory at PLU
The W.M. Keck Observatory at PLU is used by PLU students in the Introductory Astronomy course and is a popular resource for public viewing during special astronomical events such as the recent transit of Venus in June 2012. The observatory is open to the public following the PLU Jazz Under the Stars summer concerts and can accommodate visits by small groups. Research work at the observatory has included asteroid observations that have been shared with the Harvard-Smithsonian Minor Planet Center, and the observatory is available for qualified students interested in carrying out research projects under the supervision of faculty.
The observatory was built with the support of a $500,000 grant in 1998 from the W.M. Keck Foundation of Los Angeles and saw “first light” in 2000. It houses a fully automated 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope built by Meade Instruments, and the telescope is fully integrated with an automated dome that tracks the movements of the telescope as it moves to different objects in the sky.
In addition to the familiar mode of direct observations through an eyepiece, observations at the PLU observatory can also be made digitally through a Santa Barbara Instruments Group CCD camera mounted to the telescope. Those images can then be saved for further processing and analysis.
The W.M. Keck Foundation is best known for supporting the construction of much larger professional research telescopes at remote locations such as the twin 10-meter Keck 1 and Keck 2 telescopes currently operating on the peak of Mauna Kea in Hawaii and which rank among the largest ground-based telescopes in the world. Their support of the PLU observatory has contributed significantly to the quality of astronomy education at PLU and to the university’s public outreach efforts.