Pollution Telescope Sees First Light

Simon Jeffery and Polar Bear Telescope
Dr. Simon Jeffery with the new telescope system.

An image taken with the new telescope.
Click for a larger version.
A new telescope to study light pollution over the City of Armagh took its first pictures of the sky from the roof of the Armagh Observatory on Tuesday October 7th. The telescope will check that the night sky is getting darker as the city's efforts to reduce light pollution come into effect. It will also study the light from thousands of individual stars.

The Polar Bear Telescope is a small camera system with a serious purpose. It consists of an array of three wide-angle telescopes aimed at an area around the Pole Star. Together, the telescopes will monitor a patch of sky some 20 degrees across including the constellation Ursa Minor - the Little Bear. It will measure the brightness of the night sky all night every night. It will also measure the brightness of over ten thousand individual stars every clear minute. The completely automatic telescope will beat the Armagh weather by running all the time. The cameras will capture images on clear nights and through gaps between clouds.

The night sky over European cities is becoming brighter as street lights and other outdoor illumination leak light upwards. As well as depriving generations of the spectacular sight of the Milky Way, unnecessary lighting wastes energy, increases carbon dioxide, and has a harmful effect on wildlife. Armagh is one of the first cities in the UK and Ireland to develop a policy on light pollution. The Polar Bear Telescope will monitor its effectiveness. The observations obtained on October 7th were the first time that all three cameras were operated together, but it will be some months before readings of the sky brightness become routine.

Project scientist Simon Jeffery and engineer Geoff Coxhead were able to progress the project after a difficult weather period. They now look forward to exploring a rich seam of astronomical data. Simon Jeffery reported "Smaller than the oldest telescope in the Observatory, our new telescope will observe over ten thousand stars at the same time. This creates a real challenge for data analysis, but we expect to find a lot of surprises."

Praising the achievement of the project team, Observatory director Mark Bailey said "It is great to see the 220-year tradition of observational astronomy at Armagh continue, and we look forward to seeing both a reduction in light pollution in the city and to the new discoveries that these telescopes are sure to make."

See also: Fireball captured by the telescope

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: Dr Simon Jeffery at the Armagh Observatory, College Hill, Armagh, BT61 9DG; Tel.: 028-3752-2928; csjat signarm.ac.uk; URL: http://star.arm.ac.uk/.

Last Revised: 2010 January 4th