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Contact: Jim Doyle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                August 23, 1994

       The Mount Wilson Institute and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are making it possible for students from kindergarten to 12th grade to observe the skies.

       The program, begun in 1993, is called Telescopes in Education (TIE). Founded and directed by Gilbert Clark of JPL for the Mount Wilson Institute under the direction of Dr. Robert Jastrow, TIE will provide schools across the country with access to a high quality 24-inch telescope located at an altitude of 1,768 meters (5,800 feet) at the Mount Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains.

       The TIE program is designed to make research-grade telescopes and the data they produce available to schools and amateur astronomers across the country.      With the help of professionals from both institutions, teachers are able to control the telescope using a computer and modem from their classrooms.

       With the proper software, students view the night sky on a computer screen and choose an object for study. Using their computer, the students direct the telescope to move across the sky to the object. A charge-coupled device (CCD) camera forms an image of the chosen object. The image is downloaded through telephone lines and ends up on the computer in the classroom.

       Once the newly acquired image is in the computer memory the students can repeat the process to obtain another image.

       After the software has been installed on the school computer, the teacher calls the TIE program to reserve a block of time. When reservations are made, the user is also given a time and date for an online test. The test is to make sure the school computer can communicate properly with the telescope's computer. The test is conducted during an afternoon in the week prior to the scheduled night of observation.

       Obtaining an image takes seven to 10 minutes. This includes the time it takes to slew the telescope, set the exposure on the CCD camera and download the image.

       "There's been a great deal of interest within the educational community," said Clark, a staff engineer in JPL's Engineering and Science Directorate and task manager of the TIE program.

       "We went public with the program about two months ago, and so far we have had several hundred inquiries," Clark said. "We have had about 20 classes online, and expect at least that many more within a month."

       A grant from NASA allows the TIE program to offer the telescope to teachers from kindergarten to 12th grade at no cost. The grant goes through this fall and also includes community colleges actively involved in education programs with their neighboring primary, intermediate or secondary schools.

       The current operating plan for Mount Wilson's telescope is to reserve weekend nights and holidays for amateur astronomers and astronomy clubs, and weekday nights for schools. Amateurs will have stand-by status during the week when schedules permit.


8/23/94 JJD