Observing Facilities

Apache Point Observatory

facilities_apoThe APO 3.5-meter (138-inch) telescope is located in the Sacramento Mountains of central New Mexico. Our department is one of several that collaborated on the design and construction of this telescope. It is the centerpiece of our ground-based “toolkit” for research, and is used by faculty, graduate students, and postdocs about 100 nights per year. The telescope is normally used from the U.W. campus over the internet.

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

LSST will be an 8.4m telescope (330-inch) with a very wide field of view and a huge CCD camera mosaic that will map the sky twice weekly to the sky limit in some bands. The telescope will produce many terabytes of facilities_lsstdata per night. Images can be stacked for depth or compared to monitor changes in brightness or position. The project is presently in design. If fully funded it can be operational byu about 2013. UW is a founding partner and is active in the design of one of the major data pipelines.

The Survey Science Group (SSG) is comprised of a group of astrophysicists with a broad range of survey science experience and research interests. One of the primary focuses is the scientific development of LSST as well as developing simulations, and data management software for analyzing the data expected from this digital map of the sky.

Sloan Digital Sky Survey

facilities_sdssSDSS is a project the UW Astronomy department participates in along with over twenty international partners. The project’s primary aim is to utilize the 2.5-meter (100-inch) special purpose telescope for a 5-color photometric survey of 10,000 square degrees of sky to map the three-dimensional structure of the distant universe, to understand the structure of the Milky Way, to discover supernovae (exploding stars) whose intensity allows us to map the expansion of the Universe, and to probe the depths of the solar system and its primordial remnants still orbiting the Sun. The imaging data are routinely calibrated and placed on the public web site www.sdss.org. The imaging survey is complemented by an extensive spectroscopic survey which will yield 1 million digital spectra.

The SDSS began its first mission — a full sky survey — in 2000. It completed its first phase of operations — SDSS-I — in June, 2005. Over the course of five years, SDSS-I imaged more than 8,000 square degrees of the sky in five bandpasses, detecting nearly 200 million celestial objects, and it measured spectra of more than 675,000 galaxies, 90,000 quasars, and 185,000 stars. These data have supported studies ranging from asteroids and nearby stars to the large scale structure of the Universe.

The SDSS has entered a new phase, SDSS-II, continuing through June, 2008. With a consortium that now includes 25 institutions around the globe, SDSS-II will carry out three distinct surveys: the Sloan Legacy Survey, SEGUE, and the Sloan Supernova Survey, to address new and fundamental questions about the nature of the Universe, the origin of galaxies and quasars, and the formation and evolution of our own Galaxy, the Milky Way.

Manastash Ridge Observatory

The MRO 0.8-meter (30-inch) telescope is located in central Washington state, 100 miles East of Seattle. It is operated by the Astronomy facilities_mroDepartment of the University of Washington primarily for the training of  undergraduate students, as well as for astronomical research. Students who use the observatory must learn the basics of astronomical observing as well as the care and operation of the instrumentation. The Astronomy Undergraduate Engineering Group, thanks to funding from the UW Campus Sustainability Fund and the UW Student Tech Fee, are upgrading the observatory, instrumentation, and control systems to help ensure MRO is productive for years to come.

Physics Shop

facilities_physicsshopThe Department has ready access to the Physics Shop located on the lab floor of our building. This shop has an extremely valuable resource for new and very sophisticated hardware made with the most modern of high-tech shop machinery. For example, the Physics Shop has made all of the plug plates for the Sloan spectroscopic survey, helped with our CCD cameras, and built hardware for each of our observatories. Although the Astronomy Department does not operate the shop, the shop has been a major resource to our faculty and students.


In addition to these facilities, facilities_greatobs department members make extensive use of NASA’s “Great Observatories”: the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Telescope, and the Spitzer Infrared Telescope. We also use data from other NASA satellites and the outstanding NSF-supported ground-based national observatories’ optical, infrared, and radio telescopes.