Facilities. The Iowa Robotic Observatory is maintained by the students and faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The construction and operation of this facility has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the Iowa Space Grant Consortium, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa. The IRTF operates the Rigel telescope, a 37cm f/14 classical Cassegrain reflector, located at the Winer Observatory near Sonoita, Arizona. This facility is completely robotic and is scheduled in advance at a central control facility at the University of Iowa. The primary use of the Rigel telescope is for teaching in undergraduate laboratories at the University of Iowa. The telescope is also used for thesis research by graduate students in the Department.
Education. Since education is a primary goal of the IRO, we have developed an online astronomy laboratory curriculum designed for use with the facility. The offers laboratory exercises and research projects in an 'active learning' format in which students work in teams of three to solve research problems using inquiry-based methods.. The projects are designed for use with commercially available Windows-based software for sky display (Starry Night) and image analysis (Maxim/DL). The current version of the manual is available online.
Student Research. The Rigel telescope is operated primarily by undergraduates, many of whom are involved in independent research projects. Students in the major-level introductory courses, and the uppoer-level astronomical laboratory course pursue many research projects, including determining the rotational periods of previously undetermined asteroids, timing observations of eclipsing binary stars, photometry of newly discovered supernovae, and most recently, low-resolution spectroscopy of emission-line stars using the transmission grating spectrometer.
Several graduate students have also used the IRO for masters-level research. Allen Rogel conducted a supernova search, in which a large number of galaxy images have been archived. More recently, another graduate student, Michael Wilson, completed an M.S. thesis using the Rigel telescope. His thesis topic was a search for planets eclipsing white dwarfs. All of this research is described on the student research page.
Image Database. We invite you to visit our Sample Images page. Here we keep some sample images from Rigel. In addition, there is an Archival Image page with archive images of the Messier objects. There are more than 1,000 images in FITS-format available, mostly taken with the older Iowa Robotic Telescope.
Internet Observing. We formerly allocated a limited amount [typically 20%] of total observing time at both telescopes for use by external educators, scientists, and anyone else with an interest in astronomy. We currently do not support such external users, but plan to re-establish this program as resources become available.
A 11 minute introductory video of the Iowa Robotic Telescope is available on Youtube: