Several dozen guests braved a blockage on Highway 17, thick fog,
a pounding hailstorm, and near-freezing temperatures at Lick Observatory
on October 25 to dedicate an advanced new instrument: the Katzman
Automatic Imaging Telescope, or KAIT, the world's most sensitive
fully robotic telescope. Shown here with the telescope are Sylvia
and Jim Katzman (top row), whose Saratoga-based foundation donated
$50,000 to help complete the project; Chancellor Greenwood (bottom
left), who led the dedication; and UC Berkeley professor of astronomy
Alex Filippenko, leader of the team that designed and built KAIT.
Filippenko and his colleagues demonstrated KAIT's unique abilities
inside the closed dome. A computer controls the movements and
observations of the telescope and the dome each night; no human
astronomer need be present. Based on lists of priorities previously
assigned by the astronomer, the computer directs the telescope
to point at various objects and record data for remote retrieval
the next morning. State-of-the-art tracking techniques allow the
30-inch telescope to take deep exposures of distant objects for
up to a half-hour at a time, far longer than other robotically
KAIT's forte, says Filippenko, is observing variable objects--comets,
exploding stars, and galaxies that may change in brightness from
night to night. If the telescope detects a dramatic change during
one of its observations, the computer can override the rest of
the night's schedule to spend more time studying that one object.
This ability will prove invaluable when rapid observations are
needed of a brand-new object, such as a supernova. It's difficult
to make such observations from most other telescopes, Filippenko
notes, because astronomers schedule them months in advance.
Chancellor Greenwood unveiled a plaque at a ceremony to honor
the Katzman Foundation's contribution to the project. Jim Katzman,
cofounder of Tandem Computers, is a member of the Dean's Advisory
Council for UCSC's Natural Sciences Division. Other attendees
at the dedication included Executive Vice Chancellor Michael Tanner;
David Kliger, dean of the Natural Sciences Division; Joseph Miller,
director of UC Observatories/Lick Observatory; Patrick Mantey,
associate dean for engineering, Natural Sciences Division; P.
Buford Price, dean of Physical Sciences, UC Berkeley; and Jonathan
Arons, chair of the Astronomy Department, UC Berkeley.
(Photo: Robert Irion)