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STAR Conference on smaller telescopes (two meters or less)
Their development and use in research and education

June 19-22,  2008
Embassy Suites, San Luis Obispo, California

Introduction to Small Telescopes and Astronomical Research
(click here for the STAR Conference Summary)

       Affordable CCD cameras, compact go-to telescopes, and powerful personal computers (not to mention DSLR and video cameras) have transformed small telescopes into powerful tools for astronomical research. “Dobsonian” mirrors up to one-meter aperture and affordable control systems are being combined into highly capable equatorial and alt-az telescopes. These larger telescopes not only allow precise astrometric and photometric observations of faint objects but, with recently available spectrographs, both time-series and classification spectroscopy are now affordable. Robotic and remote access small telescopes are facilitating observations both locally and remotely around the globe. High school and undergraduate students are joining the ranks of amateur and professional astronomers in utilizing small telescopes for astronomical research. Whether conducting astronomical research or developing new telescopes or software, students gain invaluable hands-on experience in science and engineering while, as coauthors of published papers, their careers are given a boost.


Small telescopes and CCD Cameras have revolutionized  small telescope astronomy. The three Cuesta College students shown here used the 10-inch telescope and SBIG CCD Camera at the Orion Observatory
during a 2006 Cuesta College research
seminar to discover
two new variable stars.

Noll Roberts, Casey Milne, and Neelie Jaggi use a small telescope
 and CCD camera to observe a variable star.

Scientific Research

       Research projects suitable for small telescopes include:  measuring photometric variations over time of asteroids, intrinsically variable stars, cataclysmic variables, eclipsing binaries, exoplanet transits, and microlensing events; astrometry of visual double stars, asteroids and comets;  searching for asteroids, comets, nova, and supernova; occultation timing; and, with the larger of the small telescopes, obtaining spectroscopic time-series and assigning spectral classifications.


The light curve
of transiting exoplanet Wasp 1b observed by Jim Carlisle and, remotely, by Cindy Foote and Tom Smith as part of the Cuesta College 2007 research seminar. The transit occurred 29.1 minutes  later than predicted.

Foote's Exoplanet Light Curve (Wasp 1b)


Cataclysmic variable stars are exciting to study. Matter is pulled  from a red giant into an accre-tion disk around a white dwarf. Eventually clumps of matter fall onto the white dwarf, creating a visible explosion of heat and light. The Center for Backyard Astrophysics (CBA) coordinates photo-metric observations around the globe

Cataclysmic variable stars

Technological Development

       New CCD cameras, spectrographs,  and software for smaller telescopes are being developed. A number of new German equatorial mounts and superb wide-field OTAs, driven largely by astrophotography demands, are also benefiting scientific research. Affordable, high-quality 32-inch mirrors are now readily available, as are low-cost, highly capable control systems. A new breed of affordable equatorial and alt-az telescopes, now approaching 1-meter aperture, is being designed by students, amateurs, and commercial manufacturers. With the advent of advanced software, remote access robotic observatories have become commonplace. The engineering and software development of these high-tech instruments, telescopes, and observatories are challenging the creativity of a wide range of students, amateurs, and manufacturers.


Russ Genet, Richard Berry, Howard Banich, Dave Rowe, Mel Bartels, Dan Gray, Ed Harvey, and Greg Jones pose by Dan’s 14-inch alt-az telescope, which is a test bed for new alt-az telescope control systems.

Dan Gray's 14 inch alt-az telescope


Astrophotography is a demanding art. The sophisticated image processing techniques required to produce such exquisite images drive small telescope technology to the benefit of science. This image of the Horsehead Nebula was taken by Robin White on his 10-inch Meade LX200 telescope with a StarlightXpress CCD camera.

The Horsehead Nebula


Howard Banich and Russ Genet stand beside Howard’s portable 28-inch alt-az telescope. Such portable telescopes can be used for faint-object scientific observations.

Howard Banich's 28-inch alt-az telescope

 Education through Research

       Small telescope astronomical research is particularly well suited to high school and undergraduate students. The telescopes and instruments are affordable and can be used to conduct useful research in many areas. In one- or two-semester research courses and summer camps, students have proven their ability to conduct high-quality, published research. Through such hands-on research, these students develop an appreciation for the true exploratory nature of science. Their published papers also shift their educational careers into high gear. Whether by designing and developing telescopes and robotic observatories, making astronomical observations, or analyzing data and writing papers, students hone their skills as they engage their school with cutting-edge scientific research.


Darrell Grisham, an amateur astronomer and member of the Cuesta College Fall 2007 physics research seminar, has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that even very small vintage telescopes can still do real science. His observations of visual double stars with a 3-inch, 1960’s vintage Tasco telescope were almost twice as precise as what are generally considered good visual astrometric measurements. His observations have been published in the Journal of Double Star Observations.

Darrell Grisham and his vintage Tasco


Tom Frey, Professor of Chemistry and a member of the Cuesta College research seminar, is hiding behind his 18-inch Obsession telescope. He observed neglected double stars and developed a new astrometric measurement technique for alt-az telescopes.

Tom Frey and his 18-inch Obsession


The Cuesta College research seminar has a wide cross section of high school, undergraduate, and retired students—as well as several PhD’s—working cooperatively to conduct and submit original research for publication. Jo Johnson, left, and Jim Carlisle, right, are reducing time series photometric data of exoplanet Wasp 1b.

Jo Johnson and Jim Carlisle

Conference Summary

   The STAR conference is being co-chaired by Russ Genet, a Research Scholar in Residence at California Polytechnic State University and Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at Cuesta College, and Jo Johnson, a student at Cuesta College. As a member of Russ’ recently completed fall research seminar, Jo has six research papers to his credit and brings a vital student perspective to the conference. We are placing special emphasis on attracting high school and undergraduate students to the STAR Conference, and have established a travel/conference expense fund, administered by the Dark Ridge observatory, to facilitate their participation. Donations would be greatly appreciate.  To learn more about this fund and to make a donation click here.
     The STAR Conference has been organized to accommodate a wide range of attendees, from high school students with an interest in science but little knowledge of scientific research, astronomy, or telescopes, to seasoned amateur and professional researchers with decades of observational and scientific or engineering experience.
    An optional six hour tutorial on Thursday will provide students and other neophytes to astronomical research and development, with sufficient background to understand the rest of the conference.
    The remainder of the conference, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, will feature three different types of sessions. Plenary sessions, the first thing each of these three mornings, will each provide six twenty-minute topical overviews. These overviews, 18 in all across the three days, will introduce all attendees to the topics that will be covered in greater depth in the parallel special focus sessions which will occupy the remainder of the mornings and afternoons (except for Saturday afternoon, which will be devoted to a bus excursion and tour of Hearst Castle).
      Each special focus session will explore a single topic in greater depth with four 20-minute talks followed by a 40 minute panel with short summaries, discussions, and questions submitted in writing from the audience. There are, all told, 15 STAR Conference special focus sessions. They are scheduled three at a time. Thus attendees can choose  five of the 15 sessions to suit their specialized interests.
     Finally, evening plenary sessions will provide presentations of general interest, including student presentations on Friday evening.


Hearst Castle

Assembly Room

Saturday afternoon will begin with a box lunch during a bus trip up the scenic coast to the historic Hearst Castle overlooking the small town of San Simeon. The tour will include an IMAX movie  on the building of the Hearst Castle at the Hearst visitors center. The bus will depart for Embassy Suites at 5:30 and the evening will be free to visit and enjoy San Luis Obispo.


    Commercially manufactured equipment and other displays are welcome for the duration of the conference, and there will be boards for displaying posters in the foyer. Written papers are not mandatory, but are encouraged. The conference proceedings will be published as a book by the Collins Foundation Press.
    On Friday evening, the STAR Conference 2008 Student Research and Development awards will be announced and selected recipients will give short talks that will describe their research or development project to the general audience.


The Embassy Suites features a beautiful atrium for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Guests enjoy the comfort of luxurious two-room suites.

The Embassy Suites' Atrium


Lunches will be held in the atrium of the Embassy Suites. Refreshments will be provided during the morning breaks. Information is provided on accommodations and the beautiful central coast area.

Click here for Registration

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