The History of DARC and the Whole Earth Telescope
The Whole Earth Telescope (WET) was founded by R.E. Nather and D.E. Winget at the University of Texas in the 1980s as an
international collaboration of astronomers dedicated to continuous 24-hr monitoring of pulsating white dwarfs. Pulsating stars require
continuous monitoring to measure their pulsation “tones,” an impossible task from a single site. The WET took multisite campaigns to the next level, functioning as a single instrument coordinated from an interactive headquarters that maintains contact with each observing site during a run, assigning nightly targets based on scientific priorities, local weather patterns, and overlapping coverage considerations. The headquarters also provides real-time data analysis. WET moved to Iowa in the 1990s, and came to Delaware in 2005, where it is now an important component of DARC. WET continues to be an example of international cooperation in astronomy.
Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory
In 1958, seven men envisioned facilitating astronomical education and research in Delaware. They founded Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory, Inc., a non-profit organization supported by donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations. The original facility, built with a generous donation of land in the hills of Mt. Cuba near Hoopes Reservoir, houses a 24-inch telescope, a library, and a machine shop. The F. G. du Pont wing, added in 1973, includes a lecture room, planetarium, and the 4” Dupont refractor. The Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory is Delaware’s only public Observatory.
The Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory is a private, nonprofit, educational institution. The Observatory’s mission is the advancement and promotion of the study, observation, and appreciation of astronomy, astrophysics, and the related space sciences. For this purpose, the Observatory provides facilities, guidance, and inspiration for astronomical study and research to people of all ages and skill levels.
Observatory programs are designed to awaken and develop an individual’s interest in science and technology, especially astronomy and space sciences. Activities include observation and imaging of the moon, planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies. Children's programs are geared specifically to young people between 5 and 12 years of age. Volunteers participate in international projects. Students and faculty members carry out varied research projects through a close working relationship with the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware.
The general public is invited to visit the Observatory on selected public nights. Public nights are usually held on alternating Monday nights. Observatory associates present illustrated discussions covering various astronomical topics, followed by a tour of the facilities. Conditions permitting, guests view the planets, moon, or other objects of interest through the 4.5 inch F. G. du Pont telescope or via imaging with the 0.6m telescopes. On cloudy nights, guests are treated to a show in the in-house planetariusm Dates and topics can be found at our website.
Asteroseismology: The Study of Pulsating Stars
Light Carries Information
When you look up at the stars, you see light that has traveled millions of miles through space. This light is the only artifact we have to study stars, but fortunately it carries vast amounts of information along its journey. From this feeble glow, we can determine a star’s surface composition, temperature, the presence of a second object in the same stellar star system (called binary companions), and its motion toward or away from us.
Unfortunately, the light we observe originates from the surface of the star, thus, we have no way to directly peer into stellar interiors. This is where the science of asteroseismology becomes important. Until its emergence, our knowledge of stellar interiors and their furnaces was purely theoretical.
The study of pulsating stars, stars that change their shapes or surface temperatures as waves of energy travel through their interiors, is known as asteroseismology.
Asteroseismolgy can tract its roots back to the study of earthquakes. Seismology is the investigation of energy waves (in the form of earthquakes) as they travel through and around the earth. By studying these waves, scientists are able to image structures deep within the Earth’s Interior. The idea of applying seismology to “starquakes” has only emerged in the last 20 years.
What can We Learn?
How can we use stellar pulsations to determine information about stars? In the same way the bells of different shapes, sizes and materials will emit unique tones when rung, so too will stars produce individual “tones” based on its mass and structure. If you observe a pulsating star, you can measure its pulsation “tones” and determine its basic internal characteristics.
Our studies of asteroseismology have a grander goal than simply determining individual stellar structures. We use this information to better understand the physics and evolution of stars, including our sun. In turn, we use that information to better understand our own Milky Way galaxy, and eventually other galaxies in the Universe.