Discovery Channel Telescope » DCT Science » Kuiper Belt

 DCT Status, April 22, 2013

First Light

We obtained first light images with Lowell's Discovery Channel Telescope in mid-2012, in time for unveiling at our First Light Gala on July 21, 2012. Over 700 people attended the celebration, which featured a keynote address by Neil Armstrong, making what would be his last public appearance. We were honored by his presence at this turning point in Lowell's history. See our First Light Gala page for photographs and desktop versions of the first light images.

Commissioning Images

The Large Monolithic Imager (LMI), funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is the DCT's workhorse instrument, featuring a 36 megapixel CCD with a field of view of nearly 13 arc minutes. It is mounted on the back of the instrument cube, at the straight-through position, with other instruments soon to be arrayed around the side ports. Lowell astronomer and instrument Principal Investigator Philip Massey has assembled gallery of commissioning images for you to enjoy and download. These demonstrate the outstanding optical quality of the telescope and apart from the color-compositing, they are completely unretouched.

Early science

With the commissioning phase of the DCT project now proceeding rapidly, we have begun to offer the first science observing nights to Lowell staff and to astronomers from our partner institutions (Boston University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Toledo). Although most nights are still dedicated to commissioning and engineering, we used the DCT on about 10 nights in Q1 2013 and are on track for aboout 15 nights in Q2 and 20 in Q3 for science observing. It is exciting to see our newest eye on the heavens doing so well what it was built to do, and we have obtained image quality as good as 0.6 seconds of arc. Stay tuned as the exciting results begin to accumulate!

Artist's conception of the Kuiper Belt object Sedna

Artist's conception of the Kuiper Belt object Sedna. NASA/JPL.

The DCT will advance Lowell’s tradition of researching the outer solar system.

The DCT offers unique capabilities for both faint objects and large, synoptic, observing endeavors. These capabilities will allow Lowell researchers to gain new insights into the Kuiper Belt — a group of faint objects orbiting the outer edges of the solar system, beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto.

To better understand the Kuiper Belt’s composition and dynamic history, we’ll survey it with the Near Infrared High Throughput Spectrograph (NIHTS). Lowell Observatory astronomer Henry Roe will conduct this Kuiper Spectral Survey — or “KSS” — using the DCT, which is capable of extremely fast instrument switching. Roe will compare infrared spectra to data from the DCT’s Large Monolithic Imager (LMI) to learn more about what comprises these objects and what they reveal about the early history of the outer solar system. The KSS will yield detailed data for about 350 objects.