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  • Spectrometer Makes Astronomical Debut

Photonics Spectra
Oct 1997
Michael K. Robinson

Amateur and university astronomers have more in common than a passing interest in stars. With the tight equipment budgets at universities today, professional astronomers often find themselves confronted with a problem that most amateur astronomers know well -- how to make the most of a finite amount of money.

Amateur astronomers Nick Glumac and Joseph Sivo used an Ocean Optics S2000 spectrometer to record the spectra of the Hale-Bopp comet on the outskirts of New York City under clear skies with moderate light pollution.

Comet Hale-Bopp's recent visit sent amateur astronomers Nick Glumac and Joseph Sivo and professional astronomer David Lien looking for a way to study the comet's spectra. Though taking separate routes, the amateurs and the professional arrived at the same solution: Ocean Optics' S2000 fiber optic spectrometer. The solution surprised even Rob Morris, Ocean Optics' marketing manager, who said, "It had never really occurred to us to use it in an astronomical application."

Comet watching

Glumac, a mechanical engineer at Rutgers University, and Sivo, owner of Sivo Scientific Co. in Union City, N.J., obtained spectra of Hale-Bopp between 350 and 520 nm. They used a 10-in. Meade LX-200 telescope and the uncooled Ocean Optics S2000 spectrometer, coupled by an eyepiece holder-fiber optic coupler that they designed themselves.

The duo borrowed the spectrometer from the Rutgers University department of mechanical engineering, which originally had purchased it for Glumac's research. Glumac said that the advantages of the S2000 are its low cost, sensitivity and ease of use.

Lien, then an astronomer in the physics department at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., purchased the spectrometer to study the Hale-Bopp comet. Using a 110-year-old 10-in. Clark refractor, he collected the comet's spectra between 360 and 850 nm. He used four optical fibers (50, 100, 200 and 400 µm) to vary the resolution and the throughput. He also used it to study the sun and the moon, demonstrating the flexibility of the S2000's integration period.

The price originally drew Lien to the device. He said that another system would have cost approximately $8000, a high price to justify to university officials. At $3000, the S2000 system was much easier to budget. Lien also planned to use the spectrometer in the classroom or teaching lab. "Every physics or chemistry department should have one of these in their labs."

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