NEWARK -- Thursday, Feb. 20, 1997 -- Management 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., will become the responsibility of a consortium of research universities led by the Center for Solar Research at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) effective July 1, 1997.
NJIT's Board of Trustees today unaminously approved a plan which calls for the transfer of all grants and scientific equipment at the Big Bear Solar Observatory from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to NJIT including a lease for the land and buildings until the year 2048. NJIT also will assume responsibility for operating a dedicated array of solar radio telescopes at Owens Valley, Ca. The observatories and equipment are valued at about $12 million. The observatories support a $1.6 million annual research program.
"For nearly a quarter of a century, the Big Bear Solar Observatory has been recognized as the premier university-based solar observatory in the world," said Saul K. Fenster, NJIT president. "Acquisition of Big Bear significantly expands and greatly enhances the university's astrophysics initiatives as well as creating opportunities for New Jersey companies to expand their business in infrared sensors and other opto-electronic devices."
The origin of this unique transfer dates to December 1995 when Caltech began a nationwide search for a university to assume directorship of Big Bear. 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.
The NJIT Center for Solar Research, established in Spring 1996, will operate the Big Bear facility and the solar activities at Owens Valley. Philip Goode, Ph.D., a world renowned astrophysicist and distinguished professor of physics at NJIT, is director of the center and will become the director of Big Bear Solar Observatory. Haimin Wang, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at NJIT and associate director of the center, will become associate director of the observatory. Wang is an outstanding young astronomer who earned a Ph.D. for work done at Big Bear.
"We plan to operate the observatories as a consortium with NJIT as the lead institution," Goode said. "Caltech, University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, Montana State, and the National Solar Observatory have expressed strong interest in joining the consortium."
Big Bear has 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.
The Big Bear Solar Observatory was sited on Big Bear Lake in 1969 after an exhaustive two-year survey. The lake is at high altitude, has more than 300 sunny days a year, and the water helps stabilize the air above it, making the site the best in the U.S. and one of the best in the world for daytime astronomy.
The facilities at Big Bear and Owens Valley have the unique capacity to simultaneously study 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.
Goode plans an aggressive re-instrumentation of the observatories to give the facilities a new strong identity while positioning them at the forefront of astronomy.
"Looking towards 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."
NJIT Associate Professor of Physics Nuggehalli M. Ravindra is an expert in IR filters and Physics Professor Ken K. Chin is an expert in focal plane electronics, having invented special electronics for high resolution observations of solar magnetic fields. NJIT also has had a close working relationship with Sensors Unlimited, a small New Jersey company which is the sole supplier of InGaAs (Indium-Gallium-Arsenide) cameras.
"Our initial goal is to test a new one-of-a-kind InGaAs camera that Sensors Unlimited is developing," said Goode. "We also will work with NJIT alumnus Guang Yang, Ph.D., who built and tested the design of an ultra-fast visible light camera which we plan to use at Big Bear. This latter camera was invented by the late Walter Kosonocky, Ph.D., who was a distinguished professor at NJIT at the time of his death in November 1996."
A significant part of running the observatory is the management of the instrumentation program. NJIT faculty and New Jersey companies will help develop, test and debug new instrumentation for Big Bear using the telescope on top of the university's Faculty Memorial Hall," said Goode. "Our telescope has an optical bench which is identical to one at Big Bear."
"We've tested our approach with a $100,000 PtSi/Si IR camera and already have made successful preliminary IR observations from Big Bear," said Goode.
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 is presently at Caltech, but is expected 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.
"The radio observations at Owens Valley will be coordinated with the visible light and near IR observations at Big Bear during the coming rising phase of solar magnetic activity. We plan observations that have never been possible before," Goode said. "Our ability to make these coordinated observations is unique in the world."
Goode plans to put a small radio telescope next to the optical telescope on top of NJIT's Faculty Hall. This dish will be used to test instrumentation including the critical electronic control systems. The dish also will be used in undergraduate instruction, as a unique complement to the optical telescope already atop Faculty Hall.
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: #3214