Graduate student shoots for the stars

Courtesy+of+Eric+McLaughlin
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Graduate student shoots for the stars

Courtesy of Eric McLaughlin

Courtesy of Eric McLaughlin

Courtesy of Eric McLaughlin

Courtesy of Eric McLaughlin

by Carly Yribarren, Staff Writer

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San Diego State astronomy graduate David Jaimes said he hopes to be the first graduate student to use the new 50-inch Phillips Claud Telescope.

The Mount Laguna Observatory is 6,100 feet above sea level in the Laguna Mountains of eastern San Diego county.

The observatory is in the process of completing the installation of the new 50-inch Phillips Claud Telescope due to a donation from the late Phillips L. Claud Jr., who funded half of the telescope’s cost in Fall 2014.

The automated telescope is 50 percent more powerful than the previous installed model.

The Phillips Claud Telescope will allow professors, undergraduate and graduate students to look further into the galaxy with the more powerful, detailed lens.

“It would help a lot of students, especially graduate students,” Jaimes said. “When this sort of thing comes up we are very fortunate to be using it and to have modern state of the art technology to work with our theses.”

Jaimes received his undergraduate degree in astronomy at SDSU and is now continuing his education in the master’s program as a graduate teaching assistant.

He is currently in his third semester of teaching students.

Before continuing his education in the master’s program, Jaimes spent two years at Columbia University as a full-time research assistant. 

Jaimes’ research at Columbia mostly consisted of finding the spectra of stars and observing the rotational patterns that these stars make.

“My research is looking at the spectra of transient objects, things that suddenly become really, really bright, such as supernova explosions,” Jaimes said.

Jaimes said the 50-inch telescope would allow him to continue his research by the gathering of data in specific areas.

“If we had two telescopes, one could be doing photometry, measuring the brightness of objects, and if we had a different telescope observing at the same time, we could add in the spectrograph in order to take the spectra of stars,” Jaimes said.

Jaimes continues to use the 40-inch telescope currently at the observatory, but the advantages of the soon to be completed 50-inch telescope are unlimited.

He said the approximate seven-inch difference in diameter of the two telescope’s mirrors would correspond with a 37 percent greater light gathering power.

This would allow for a better and more detailed look at fainter objects.

What primarily sets the 50-inch telescope apart from other telescopes is the ultimate goal of being fully automated. 

Mount Laguna Observatory director Robert Quimby has also noted the important impact that the 50-inch telescope could have on graduate students.

“It could open up a different style of research projects,” Quimby said. “Right now we have telescopes that require the students to operate during nights, and it’s difficult for them to carry out these observing programs and to be a full-time student.”

Astronomers are required to put forth a significant amount of time and effort in order to track down data and with the improved automation, enhanced research opportunities can arise.

“This would open up a program where you could potentially have observations taken on many nights, where as now there are only a few times of the month that they can do this,” Quimby said.

The 50-inch telescope’s installation has taken a great time commitment, but the results and opportunities that will arise for SDSU’s astronomy department are never-ending.

Jaimes said he hopes to eventually expand his knowledge and research within his selected areas of concentration, while he also hopes to educate more students.

The completion date of the Phillips Claud Telescope is unannounced.

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