PARI gets new scientific instrument to perform precise measurements of stars

Press release

From Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI):

(June 11, 2013) – A highly sophisticated new scientific instrument has been added to the research capabilities of the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI). The Astrometric Measuring Instrument (AMI) is now fully functional and performing precise measurements of stars from photographic plates in the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive (APDA) located at on the PARI campus.

“AMI is powerful new technology,” said PARI Science Director Dr. Michael Castelaz, “but its origins are rooted in part of astronomy’s history that is well known to most people. AMI’s key components were part of the equipment used at the Space Telescope Science Institute to map the universe for NASA’s Hubble Telescope. After the Hubble Telescope was launched much of the equipment used to map the stars was donated to PARI. Although very sophisticated for its day, the instruments required a great deal of up-fitting and reconditioning to be useful in the modern research environment. We have now completed that work and with the help of Dr. Paul Hemenway have verified that the instrument is performing flawlessly.”

Dr. Hemenway is professor emeritus at the University of Texas-Austin and a PARI Research Faculty Affiliate. He recently spent a week on the PARI campus working with Dr. Castelaz and APDA Director Thurburn Barker on the AMI verification process.

“APDA is the national archive for historic astronomical images,” said Barker, “and now contains more than 250,000 photographic plates and films. Our mission is to collect, restore, preserve and store these images so they can be available to researchers around the world. With AMI now operational, when a researcher requests information from a specific plate we can scan the plate using AMI and provide very precise measurements of the positions of stars. This information is invaluable for many types or research, but is especially and fundamentally important for astronomers determining the orbits of asteroids and planets, and for measuring distances to stars.”

“PARI is one of the few places that the general public can easily visit important scientific resources like APDA and see instruments like AMI,” said Dr. David Clavier, PARI VP of Administration and Development. “A fundamental part of our mission is to make science available and interesting to the public, especially young people, so we include APDA on our weekly docent tours and our monthly Evening at PARI series, both of which are open to anyone who wants to visit. Anyone who is interested can learn more about PARI and opportunities to visit at our web site, www.pari.edu.

About PARI
The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) is a public not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) foundation established in 1998. Located in the Pisgah National Forest 30 miles southwest of Asheville, NC, the PARI campus was selected in 1962 by NASA as the site for one of the first U.S. satellite tracking facilities. Today, the 200 acre campus houses radio and optical telescopes, earth science instruments, 30 buildings, a fulltime staff and all the infrastructure necessary to support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and research. PARI offers educational programs at all levels, from K-12 through post-graduate research.

PARI is home to the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive and a member of the NC Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative. PARI’s Exhibit Gallery displays a collection of rare meteorites as well as NASA Space Shuttle artifacts, many of which have flown in space. For more information about PARI and its programs, visit www.pari.edu. Follow PARI on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Astronomy_PARI. “Like” PARI on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Pisgah.Astronomical.Research.Institute.


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