NJIT physics professor Andrew Gerrard hopes by the end of October to be able to peer through what will be the second largest optical telescope east of Texas. Under his direction, a 1.2-meter diameter, fully-steerable Itek optical telescope will soon be installed far from city lights atop Jenny Jump Mountain, Hope http://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/jennyjump.html. The site, 1100 feet above sea level, is one of the few dark sky locations left in New Jersey.
ATTENTION EDITORS: To interview Gerrard at the construction site on Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-1p.m. through October, call Sheryl Weinstein, 973-596-3436.
“The effort to construct this unique facility has been multi-institutional featuring researchers from NJIT, Penn State University, and the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey, Inc.,” said Gerrard. The $1.1 million instrument will allow amateurs to peer into the heavens at professional levels and at the same time allow academics to study how growing metropolitan areas can generate gravity waves. These waves affect earth's circulation and may play into climate change. Target date for first light will be next spring when state rangers open access to the forest.
From now through late October, the Club field site, Greenwood Observatory, is undergoing construction to accommodate the new instrumentation. Changes include a new building for the optical telescope, equipment sheds to store power supplies and control electronics plus supporting instrumentation. Delivery of the new telescope, currently in New Mexico, is scheduled for around Oct. 15, 2008. The Club sponsors public viewings Saturday nights from April through October. For updates regarding schedule changes, visit http://www.uacnj.org/.
The telescope will be used by Gerrard and colleagues to study lower and middle atmospheric gravity waves. “By using the telescope as an optical receiver in a lidar system,” says Gerrard, “we will be able to push volume scanning methods, study cloud formations, and explore atmospheric gravity wave sources. We will share operations time with the United Astronomy Clubs to allow public access to the telescope for discovering and tracking asteroids, monitoring eclipses of planets around other stars and searching for supernovas.” The telescope will actually be the largest in the US open to the public.
Atmospheric research has long fascinated Gerrard, a new associate professor at NJIT in the department of physics. His other research interests include Equatorial Spread-F (ESF), an atmospheric phenomenon that leads to instability disruptive to communications and navigation systems–such as satellite communications or GPS signals–over the earth's magnetic equator. This is a big issue for the military, for example, because it does not want to lose contact with ground teams, lose tracking, etc. Similar concerns pertain to civilian issues.
The US Air Force Office of Scientific Research recently awarded Gerrard an $820,000 grant to lead a collaborative effort involving Clemson University, Cornell University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Geophysical Institute of Peru to study the ESF development in South America. The effort will focus on developing and operating a one-of-a-kind, Fabry-Perot Doppler imager designed for 24-hour observations of thermospheric and mesospheric winds and temperatures in a campaign spanning South America.
Gerrard is also involved with a multi-institutional project in Antarctica led by NJIT Distinguished Research Professor Louis Lanzerotti, a former Bell Labs researcher. The effort accounts for much of the U.S. involvement in space weather research at high latitudes. Gerrard is the author of more than 15 articles in scholarly journals and received his BS in physics from the State University of New York at Geneseo and his doctorate in electrical engineering from Pennsylvania State University.