New Instruments and Astronomical Discoveries

Dr. Paul Rybski, Department of Physics, will talk about “New Instruments and Astronomical Discoveries: Creating an astronomical life” at 8pm on Fri., May 5, in Upham 140. It’s the final Spring 2017 lecture in the Whitewater Observatory Lecture Series. A public viewing session at Whitewater Observatory will follow the lecture at 9:15pm, weather permitting.

If you’d like to learn more, Andersen Library can help, for example with books such as From Earth-Bound to Satellite: Telescopes, Skills and Networks (online via ProQuest Ebook Central [formerly ebrary]) and Scientific Detectors for Astronomy: The Beginning of a New Era (online via ProQuest Ebook Central)

If you’d like assistance with finding additional information, please ask a librarian (choose chat or email, phone 262-472-1032, or visit the Reference Desk).


Revolutionary astronomical discoveries are made only after new technologies are introduced that permit observations which could not have been made earlier. We are all familiar with how the introduction of refracting telescopes by Hans Lippershay in 1608 permitted Galileo in 1609 to construct his own, turn it toward the universe and gather optical data about the solar system and the Milky Way that made possible acceptance of Copernicus’ Sun-centered planetary theory by academics and theologians by his death in 1642. Less well known is how the introduction of silver halide photography in the late 19th century allowed Edwin Hubble in 1917 to discover Cepheid variable stars in the Andromeda galaxy and show to the world that spiral nebulae were not gaseous members of the Milky Way but instead galaxies at great distances from the Milky Way.

I have been fortunate to participate in two such instrumental revolutions in my 45 year career. I began my astronomical career in 1972 after the introduction to astronomical instrument builders of image intensifier technology developed for use in the Vietnam War. The Intensified Dissector Scanner technology developed for spectroscopy at Lick Observatory in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s allowed me to develop a remotely operable astronomical pulse-counting camera in 1975 and a pulse-counting, sky-subtracting astronomical spectrometer in 1977, both for the 2.7 meter telescope at McDonald Observatory and the University of Texas at Austin.

In this lecture I will discuss these instruments and their discoveries as well as show their working parts at the front of the lecture room. I will also discuss and show parts of the Charge-coupled Device-based spectrometers and photometers I developed at Yerkes Observatory for use on a novel telescope at the University of Chicago and that I designed at UW-Whitewater for use on the Kitt Peak National Observatory’s 0.9 meter telescope. This is the same technology that has been used on the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the most distant galaxies and supernova and that have contributed to the discovery of the Dark Energy that is increasing the expansion speed of the universe.

About Barbara

I am a Reference & Instruction librarian, head of that department in Andersen Library, an associate professor, and a member of the General Education Review Committee and Faculty Senate. I've been working at UW-W since July 1, 1990.
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