[Picture of KAIT telescope with Sylvia and Jim Katzman, Chancellor Greenwood, and UC Berkeley professor Alex Filippenko]

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 controlled telescopes.

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)