Science & Technology

UCF’s Robinson Observatory Gets a Futuristic Facelift

Recent updates to one of UCF’s most groundbreaking research and education facilities brings the Robinson Observatory into the 21st century, including robotics for remote viewing and a state-of-the-art weather protection system.

The new telescope inside UCF’s Robinson Observatory

The refurbishment returns the observatory to full functionality after six years. Supply shortages and the large scope of the project contributed to a year-long process of coordinating and executing the renovation.

“I’m beyond excited because Robinson Observatory is an icon for the future of space-related education here at UCF. I know that our students are going to make incredible discoveries. I can’t wait to see what they come up with,” says Richard Jerousek, lecturer and Robinson Observatory director

The new updates enable researchers to operate the observatory remotely and collect data when offsite, in addition to closing the observatory’s dome to protect equipment in varied weather conditions.

“It’s very different from anything we’ve had in the past,” Jerousek says.

Other updates include:

  • New cameras inside the telescope
  • Solar telescope to view the sun
  • 1.2-meter radio telescope
  • New telescope mount
  • Updated computers and furniture
  • Fresh paint

“We are now capable of contributing meaningfully to stellar occultation observations, observing exoplanet transits and other short-lived, time-sensitive astronomical phenomena,”  Jerousek says.

Upgrading to a fully automated observatory gives students hands-on experience in the field which they can apply to more sophisticated instruments like NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope — the largest of its kind in space. Beyond astronomy and physics, the observatory can also benefit students studying computer science, photonics and photography.

A New Era Built Upon a Rich History

From the beginning, the goal of the observatory has been to serve as a resource and inspiration to the pursuit of astronomy. Herbert Robinson, one of UCF’s founders, donated funds to construct the building that still houses an original Tinsley telescope today.

In 2006, UCF student Paul Gardner ‘06 spearheaded the effort to rejuvenate the observatory with a new telescope and mount. As the years passed, the observatory’s motor control system became outdated and ceased to function.

As with any world-class technological facility, maintenance is on-going and costly. To support the Robinson Observatory’s research and engagement activities, make a gift on April 13 during UCF Day of Giving here.

“Without the telescope moving or tracking, we couldn’t diagnose other issues that we found during the refurbishment such as the dome motor-to-telescope syncing,” Jerousek says.

After receiving funding from the College of Sciences for the much-needed refurbishment, Gardner teamed up with Jerousek and Professor Yan Fernandez, former Robinson Observatory director, to bring their vision of a revitalized observatory to life.

It was familiar territory for Gardner, who brought long experience around telescopes to the project, including the Caltech Palomar Observatory and Chile’s Giant Magellan Telescope. He currently works for Amazon as an opto-mechanical engineering manager.

Gardner didn’t hesitate to return to Central Florida to help with the refurbishment. “That observatory launched my career,” he says.

Igniting Exploration of the Cosmos for Years to Come

Jerousek’s mission for the observatory is to support research and learning at UCF and provide a space for students of diverse disciplines to contribute their skills to the study of astronomy.

In addition to serving UCF students, monthly public events called Knights Under the Stars welcome the Orlando community to explore the cosmos. These events host over a hundred community members to explore the wonders of astronomy and learn from experts at UCF.

If there’s one thing Gardner wants people to know about the observatory, it’s that it has the potential to impact someone’s life and career path. This refurbishment is an important step in ensuring that it can do that for years to come, he says.

Morgan Lemmen
Tags: College of Sciences Research space

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