Wayne State University Receives Dark Sky Land and Robotic Observatory in New Mexico

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Wayne State University in Detroit today announced it has taken ownership of the Dan Zowada Memorial Observatory, located in the desert of southwest New Mexico. Russ Carroll, a retired entrepreneur and astronomer, gifted the observatory to the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in memory of his late friend, Dan Zowada.

The 40 acres of land the observatory is built on, located in Rodeo, N.M., is in an area well-known among astronomers for some of the darkest skies in the country. The observatory will be used by students in Wayne State’s undergraduate astronomy program and faculty who research space. The dome houses a 20-inch PlaneWave robotic telescope that can be controlled from anywhere with Internet access.

"This is going to revolutionize what we're able to accomplish in terms of research, teaching, and outreach," says Ed Cackett, a Wayne State associate professor of physics and astronomy. "We now have access to clear skies virtually every night of the year. For a university in Detroit, that’s remarkable.” 

Cackett has used the observatory to monitor a series of black holes every night.

“One of the great things about this telescope is that it will allow us to look at the time variability of objects by checking in on them nightly," says Cackett. “The fact that we don’t have to limit our time with the observatory is a huge advantage for our faculty and students. This will open the doors for us to get to the bottom of a lot of scientific questions.”

Wayne State astronomy and physics faculty plan to share observatory access with K-12 science teachers.

“Whether it’s in K-12 classrooms or through public events, it’s wonderful to think about the local community being exposed to using an instrument like this," says Carroll. “The fact that this is going to bring professional and amateur astronomers together is inspiring." 

Carroll is a former board member of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

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