Chapter 6 Astronomical Instruments

6.8 Collaborative Group Activities

Collaborative Group Activities

  1. Most large telescopes get many more proposals for observing projects than there is night observing time available in a year. Suppose your group is the telescope time allocation committee reporting to an observatory director. What criteria would you use in deciding how to give out time on the telescope? What steps could you take to make sure all your colleagues thought the process was fair and people would still talk to you at future astronomy meetings?
  2. Your group is a committee of nervous astronomers about to make a proposal to the government ministers of your small European country to chip in with other countries to build the world’s largest telescope in the high, dry desert of the Chilean Andes Mountains. You expect the government ministers to be very skeptical about supporting this project. What arguments would you make to convince them to participate?
  3. The same government ministers we met in the previous activity ask you to draw up a list of the pros and cons of having the world’s largest telescope in the mountains of Chile (instead of a mountain in Europe). What would your group list in each column?
  4. Your group should discuss and make a list of all the ways in which an observing session at a large visible-light telescope and a large radio telescope might differ. (Hint: Bear in mind that because the Sun is not especially bright at many radio wavelengths, observations with radio telescopes can often be done during the day.)
  5. Another “environmental threat” to astronomy (besides light pollution) comes from the spilling of terrestrial communications into the “channels”—wavelengths and frequencies—previously reserved for radio astronomy. For example, the demand for cellular phones means that more and more radio channels will be used for this purpose. The faint signals from cosmic radio sources could be drowned in a sea of earthly conversation (translated and sent as radio waves). Assume your group is a congressional committee being lobbied by both radio astronomers, who want to save some clear channels for doing astronomy, and the companies that stand to make a lot of money from expanding cellular phone use. What arguments would sway you to each side?
  6. When the site for the new Thirty-Meter Telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea was dedicated, a group of native Hawaiians announced opposition to the project because astronomers were building too many telescopes on a mountain that native Hawaiians consider a sacred site. You can read more about this controversy at and at Once your group has the facts, discuss the claims of each side in the controversy. How do you think it should be resolved?
  7. If you could propose to use a large modern telescope, what would you want to find out? What telescope would you use and why?
  8. Light pollution (spilled light in the night sky making it difficult to see the planets and stars) used to be an issue that concerned mostly astronomers. Now spilled light at night is also of concern to environmentalists and those worrying about global warming. Can your group come up with some non-astronomical reasons to be opposed to light pollution?


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