Florida International University is gaining access to a new research telescope: the Johannes Kapteyn Telescope (JKT) in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. As a member of the Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy (SARA) consortium, FIU has had access to a research telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona for more than 20 years. Dr. James Webb of FIU has been observatory director of the SARA Observatory at Kitt Peak for the past 15 years. Two years ago, SARA, added a second telescope located at Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile. These two research telescopes are located at high quality observing sites and are efficiently operated remotely over the internet returning data on a wide range of astronomical objects from stars to distant quasars which are analyzed by FIU faculty and students for research. Both telescopes are operated remotely from FIU. SARA and FIU is now in the process of adding a third telescope, the JKT to its arsenal of remotely operated research telescopes.
An NSF grant, spearheaded by SARA member Dan Batcheldor of Florida Tech, was recently awarded to SARA to fund the $474,000 project via its Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI). This money will be used to automate and refurbish the JKT observatory in preparation for remote operations. The new telescope will give FIU astronomers the ability to combine observations from the JKT with our other facilities to determine distances to near-Earth asteroids and comets using trigonometric parallax, more dark time to monitor objects that vary their brightness for up to 21 hours a day, and greater flexibility in scheduling observations.