45 Years of Telescope Automation at MIT’s Wallace Astrophysical Observatory

  • Tim Brothers Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Keywords: Wallace Observatory, robotic telescopes, robotic observatories, astronomy education


Since the conception of the George R. Wallace Jr. Astrophysical Observatory (WAO) at MIT in 1971 we have had a focus on applying cutting-edge technology to astronomical equipment and enabling automated or remote observing for scientists and students alike. A key strength of our program has been including undergraduates in the research, design, and construction of systems. These experiences have led to breakthroughs that have been invaluable for both the observatory and the observers. Wallace Observatory was also the site of the first robotic telescope conference (1975), “Telescope Automation,” which set stringent goals to which we compare our observatory today. Forty-five years later, looking back on the days of punch cards and tape reels at WAO, we must now ask, did we achieve the goals set out for us in the 1970’s? Here, we discuss this question and examine our more recent efforts to automate our modern educational telescopes while looking forward to an exciting upgrade to one of our original telescope domes.