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Okanagan College students join stargazers in new telescope project
Okanagan College Media Releae

With Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield now returned to earth and the newest Star Trek movie about to hit the big screen, it seems everything astronomical is in the air.

That’s no different at Okanagan College where professors from multiple disciplines are working to get closer to the Milky Way by assisting with the installation of three radio telescopes and infrastructure for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada – Okanagan Chapter (RASC-OC).

“The amount of College involvement in the last year has really spiraled upwards,” said Richard Christie, Physics and Astronomy department chair and RASC-OC member. “For a non-profit like the RASC-OC it provides us with some great expertise locally to take on the challenges of developing a first-class astronomy outreach facility.”

While the building of the radio telescopes is in the hands of local amateur Hugh Pett, various aspects of the project are being handled by professors and more than a dozen students from four Engineering Technology departments: Mechanical, Electronic, Civil, and Water.

•    Two Mechanical Engineering Technology students (Jonathan Peter and Luigi Ennas) are working with professor Vladimir Neykov on the antenna mount, and designing and testing motors for precise antenna tracking
•    Two Electronic Engineering students (Jamie Maloway and Brett McDowell) are working with professors Kevin Bradshaw and Randy Brown on designing the electronics for process control and the wireless transmission for the data from the telescopes
•    Six students from Civil Engineering Technology (Michael McGoldrick, Josh Goode, Tanner Vollema, Mack Murtland, James Hall, and Nate Johnson) are conducting a survey of the locations for the telescope sites with professor Terry Stewart
•    And in the fall an entire class of Water Engineering Technology students, under the direction of lab assistant Roland Oliynyk, will be designing a water acquisition and delivery system, plus a waste water system for the chapter’s proposed new classroom space – the Discovery Centre

Each year the RASC-OC hosts more than 100 events at the Okanagan Observatory reaching more than 8,000 people. Christie said the addition of the radio telescopes gives the public a chance to learn more about what are essentially the building blocks for the universe.

“Radio telescopes capture images of the stuff that is between the stars – the gases and the dust – in other words the material that will give rise to make the stars, the planets. It’s an enriched soup of chemicals and elements from which life originates.”

All that raises the question of existence of other life forms, which is why the RASC-OC is bringing in renowned astrobiologist Dr. Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute in California to speak at its Second Annual Okanagan Observatory Fundraising Dinner. Tickets for that event are $40 and available through RASC-OC President Colleen O’Hare at

Christie said the plan is to have the first radio telescope in operation this summer, with the other two coming on stream over the next two years.

“People, including kids as young as five, will be able to collect data from the telescopes and discover and look at the Milky Way.”

Christie said there’s no better time to capture the public’s interest than now.

“Our primary mandate at the RASC is one of public outreach, and here at the College it’s about giving students meaningful experiences that can lead to professional careers. To have this come together at a time when Chris Hadfield has become an international ambassador for space science is a huge boost in the arm.”