Caltech Transfers Management of Big Bear Solar Observatory to New Jersey Institute of Technology
Dome and Telescopes Dedicated to BBSO Founder Hal Zirin
BIG BEAR CITY, CALIF. - Wednesday, July 2, 1997 - The Center for Solar Research at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) took control of the Big Bear Solar Observatory in Big Bear Lake, Calif., and a dedicated array of solar radio telescopes at Owens Valley Radio Observatory in Owens Valley, Calif.
During ceremonies today at the observatory, NJIT President Saul K. Fenster and California Institute of Technology President Thomas E. Everhart signed a series of agreements transferring all grants and scientific equipment at the Big Bear Solar Observatory. NJIT also assumed responsibility for operating a dedicated array of solar radio telescopes at Owens Valley, Calif. Valued at about $12 million, the observatories and equipment support a $1.6 million annual research program
At the same time, the Big Bear Solar Observatory dome and telescopes were named in honor of Hal Zirin, professor of astrophysics at Caltech and founder and the sole director of Big Bear Solar Observatory. Zirin provided the vision and leadership for siting and constructing the Big Bear Solar Observatory as well as directing its operations for nearly 30 years. He discovered the role of emerging flux regions in rearranging magnetic fields and triggering solar flares, as well as the role of delta sunspots in producing solar flares. He also established a chromosphere atmospheric reference model for the study of the solar atmosphere.
"For more than a quarter of a century, the Big Bear Solar Observatory has been recognized as the premier university-based solar observatory in the world," said Fenster. "Today we celebrate a new partnership between NJIT and Caltech that will build on the superb tradition of excellence that has marked solar physics research at Big Bear and at Owens Valley."
"As Caltech focuses on more distant astronomical objects using the Keck Observatories and the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on the big island of Hawaii, together with the Hale Observatory on Palomar and the Owens Valley Radio Observatory here in California, we are delighted that New Jersey Institute of Technology is assuming leadership of the Big Bear Solar Observatory," said Everhart. "The consortium that they lead will build upon the pioneering work of Professor Hal Zirin and his associates that has made Big Bear the premier solar observing site in the world. Our professors look forward to continued access to the facilities at Big Bear as members of the consortium. The continued cooperation of solar astronomers using the Big Bear Solar Observatory in understanding our nearest star will benefit all humanity, since the sun, as the sustainer of life on earth, is certainly our most important star."
The facilities at Big Bear and Owens Valley have the unique capacity to simultaneously observe the sun and its extended magnetic atmosphere. Magnetic storms on the sun can have a direct and deleterious impact on satellites, the Earth's upper atmosphere, and electric power grids. Located at 6,700 feet above sea level, Big Bear Lake has more than 300 sunny days a year. Its water helps stabilize the air, making the site the best in the U.S. and among the best in the world for daytime astronomy.
Acquisition of Big Bear significantly expands and greatly enhances the university's astrophysics initiatives while creating opportunities for New Jersey companies to expand their business in infrared sensors and other opto-electronic devices.
Established in Spring 1996, the NJIT Center for Solar Research will operate the Big Bear facility and the solar activities at Owens Valley. Philip Goode, Ph.D., distinguished professor of physics at NJIT and a world-renowned astrophysicist, directs the center and will direct the Big Bear Solar Observatory. Haimin Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at NJIT and associate director of the center, is associate director of the observatory. Wang is an outstanding young astronomer who earned a Ph.D. for work done at Big Bear.
"The visible light and near IR observations at Big Bear will be coordinated with the radio observations at Owens Valley during the current rising phase of solar magnetic activity. We plan observations that have never been possible before," said Goode. "Our ability to make these coordinated observations is unique in the world."
Working with Caltech and other universities and research centers, NJIT will provide the astrophysics community with the most complete synoptic data; continue the study of flares; emphasize the relationship between solar activity and space weather and its connection to life on earth; work to achieve higher resolution observations; and drive a re-instrumentation of the observatory to build the world's best daytime infrared program, including IR photometry and polarimetry.
Goode plans an aggressive re-instrumentation of the observatories to give the facilities a new stronger identity.
"Looking toward the 21st century, we plan to develop the field of near infrared (IR) astronomy, a new direction in solar physics. There are three advantages of near IR observations: the Earth's atmosphere is more stable, observers can see more deeply into the sun, and the magnetic field effects are magnified," Goode said.
IR astronomy is only possible now because of new technologies in IR cameras.
"To do this re-instrumentation, we need expertise in IR filters, focal plane electronics and IR cameras," Goode said. "Much of that expertise lies within the NJIT faculty and in the New Jersey electronics industry."
The dedicated array of solar radio telescopes at Owens Valley, a world-renowned instrument in its own right, is currently run by Dale Gary, Ph.D., who just left Caltech to become a member of the NJIT faculty. The unique instrument makes images of the sun at many radio frequencies, giving a view ranging from high in the Sun's atmosphere to near the surface.
Caltech began a nationwide search for a university to assume directorship of Big Bear in December 1995. Astrophysics Professor Hal Zirin's intention to eventually retire as director of the observatory led Caltech to seek a timely and orderly transfer of the facility. Zirin built the observatory and has been its sole director.
Big Bear employs a full-time site manager and four full-time observers all of whom are currently supported by research grants. All five will become NJIT employees.
NJIT is a public research university enrolling nearly 7,900 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students in 67 degree programs through its five colleges: Newark College of Engineering, School of Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, the School of Management and the Albert Dorman Honors College. Research initiatives include manufacturing, microelectronics, transportation, computer science, solar astrophysics, environmental engineering and science, and architecture and building science. U.S. News and World Report's 1997 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT among the second quartile (58-114) of 229 national universities. Money Magazine's Best College Buys 1997 rated NJIT as the third best value among U.S. science and technology schools and 59th among the Top 100 U.S. higher education institutions.
For more information contact: The Office of Public Relations, (973) 596-3434
Release number: #3262