The History of the Peach Mountain Observatory
by Dave Snyder
Revised: September 2014
The 26 meter radio dish. Mark Bialek took this image on the night of June 29, 2011 from the observing field between the radio dishes... during the exposure Mark illuminated the dish with a red flashlight, for this artistic shot! (Photo by Mark Bialek).
When the Portage Lake Observatory was first opened, another tract of
land a half mile to the west had been reserved for the Astronomy Department. However it was not until 1955
that this land was used. First a 8.54 meter radio dish and subsequently a 26 meter radio dish were built.
Eventually the 8.54 meter dish was turned off (it still exists at its original location, but has been unused for
years). The control building for this dish is still in use,
however it no longer controls a radio telescope. The 26 meter dish is still in use.
The 24” telescope from the McMath-Hulbert Observatory was transferred
to a new building that was constructed about 700 feet from the old 8.54 meter dish. The Astronomy Department
subsequently decided it had no use for the building or the telescope, and the department allowed an amateur astronomy
group known as the University Lowbrow Astronomers to use the telescope. After some effort in refurbishing
and adding new equipment, the Lowbrows started a program of regular open houses that continue to this day.
An chronology of events follows:
- 1955 - A 8.54 meter radio dish was constructed.
- 1958 - A 26 meter radio dish was constructed (though the 8 meter dish was still used, at least for a while).
- 1958 - The 24” telescope from the
is dismantled in preparation to being moved.
- 1958-1959 - An observatory building is constructed about 700 feet from the
26 meter radio telescope. Unlike the typical observatory with a dome, this
building has a roof that can be moved. In the closed position the telescope is protected from the elements,
in the open position, the roof is out of the way and the telescope can take observations.
See photographs taken during construction.
- 1959 - The 24” telescope is reassembled within this building. The original
polar axis was replaced by a larger and stiffer axis built in the observatory shop.
- Circa 1979 - After several years of research work, the University no longer has a need for the optical telescope.
The Department of Astronomy agrees to give access to a newly formed group of amateur astronomers known as the University
Lowbrow Astronomers. The Department still owns the land, but operation and maintenance of the telescope are
now the responsibility of the Lowbrows. After the Lowbrows start using the telescope, they refurbish it,
and over the years add several pieces of equipment including a Telrad, an NGC-Max and a 6” refractor which
was permanently mounted on the side of the 24” telescope.
The 26 meter radio dish is still in use.
- After 2010, the Astronomy Department ceased operations at Peach Mountain (they still have access to telescopes in Arizona and other parts of the world). The Department of Aerospace Engineering (also at the University of Michigan) is in the process of upgrading the radio telescope. When the upgrades are complete, it will be used to communicate with artificial satellites. For information about the upgrade, see this PDF document (a handout given during a tour of the facility on September 18, 2014): The Peach Mountain Observatory.
The photograph above shows the 26 meter dish. If you look closely you can see the control building (it is partly obscured by vegetation).
The photograph above shows another view of the 26 meter dish. The control building is easier to see in this photo. Note that the orientation of the dish is different in this photograph than it was in the previous photograph; the orientation changes over time so the telescope can image different targets. Unlike an optical telescope, a radio telescope can operate day or night and is not affected by clouds or rain.
The 8.54 meter dish is next to a small building (the dish and the building are shown in the photograph above). Originally the building was used to control the small dish and record data. The dish was decommissioned years ago, but the building has been used for a variety of purposes. The Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences has used the building for research on aurora. The building is currently used by the Astronomy Department as a dark sky observatory for astronomy students (the building holds some telescopes which are used in the nearby field) and by the Physics Department to conduct measurements on night sky brightness levels (the building contains an all-sky camera which can make measurements once per second all night long). The night sky measurements may give information on light pollution which has been a steadily increasing problem even in locations such as Peach Mountain.
The first photograph was taken by Mark Bialek, June 29, 2011.
The second and forth photographs were taken by Dave Snyder, May 6, 2006.
The third photograph was taken by Mike Kurylo, April 2005.
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