October 29, 2014 4:37 pm
Updated: October 29, 2014 6:32 pm

Social-media savvy telescope unveiled at Halifax university

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HALIFAX – A new state-of-the-art telescope at Saint Mary’s University is garnering attention not only for its size and imaging quality, but also its social media skills.

The Planewave 0.6-metre CDK24 telescope at the Burke-Gaffney Observatory will soon be equipped with the ability to interact with people on Facebook and Twitter.

According to the university, it will be the first telescope in the world with that capability.

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“A member of the public anywhere in the world could send the observatory a tweet and say ‘take a picture of such and such a galaxy,'” said Dave Lane, the observatory’s director.

“The telescope will respond — if it’s willing to do so at that time — and interrupt what it’s doing and move the telescope, take a picture of the object and then send them back a tweet with the picture.”

The observatory hopes the social-media savvy telescope will foster more interest in astronomy.

“It’s kind of a way that the general public and hopefully young people and school students can interact with the telescope and get an image that’s theirs. It’s not just something they got off Google; it’s a real image that essentially has their name on it, that they requested,” Lane said.

READ MORE: Canada contributing to telescope involved in search for extraterrestrials

The telescope, which was unveiled Wednesday, is also considered the second-largest on a Canadian university campus.

It replaces its 40-year-old predecessor and boasts higher optical performance, better digital imaging and full remote control of the observatory.

The new equipment’s power is not lost on faculty and students in the department of astronomy and physics.

“People tend to think of telescopes as just being able to see things far away. But once those things are really, really far away you’re seeing light that left a long time ago,” said Dr. Robert Thacker, the Canada research chair in the department.

“It’s just mind-blowing to think of seeing light that’s 2.5 billion years old. That’s over half the age of the Earth in perspective. So it’s pretty incredible.”

The telescope is named after Halifax developer Dr. Ralph Medjuck, who donated the funds to purchase it as well as renovate the observatory.

Medjuck admits he isn’t a big astronomy enthusiast, but said he knows the value of having the world-class equipment.

“The world is expanding and their interests are expanding,” Medjuck said. “It’s thrilling for Halifax and Saint Mary’s to have that facility that can attract people to the university.”

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