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Peter Abrahams
"Robotics Applied to Telescopes, Past & Present"
April 18, 2011

The past of this subject is far more colorful than the present. From the 1800s are David & Mabel Todd's 'automatic device for photographing the solar corona,' and the hoax of E.E. Barnard's 'automatic comet-finder.' In the 20th century, automatic guiding and mechanical computers, were important themes in the development of telescopes.

Recent years brought the introduction of 'artificial intelligence' and the serious implications of engineering intelligent behavior. Automatic (robotic) telescopes are not simply remotely operated, but involve some level of machine intelligence, enabling a telescope to act without the direct initiative of an operator.

Examples include a telescope that senses weather, initiates, slews to a pre-programmed list of stars for photometry, then shuts down after the night; or a space-based gamma ray telescope that triggers a land-based optical telescope to slew to a gamma ray burst and observe the spectrum of the object.

This development of the capabilities of the telescope is profound in a manner surpassing the ubiquitous automation of modern life: large modern telescopes gather data at a stupendous rate, and rely on artificial intelligence to deal with the deluge.

Peter Abrahams enjoys studying the history of the telescope so much that, to obtain more computer time, he resigned from the RCA board after 8 years as an officer. He is more typically an armchair astronomer than an eyepiece astronomer, recently selling his 16 inch dob to gain storage space, and now reduced to a 6 inch Mak and a few old (Old) refractors. But a larger & portable dob is in his future. Meanwhile, there are dozens of interesting subjects in the history of binoculars and telescopes to occupy his time. In particular, the history of amateur astronomy in the Portland area includes some fantastic telescopes that need more attention. Papers and bibliographies can be found on his web site: http://home.europa.com/~telscope/binotele.htm.

 

 

  

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