The Martin S. Kraar Observatory

The Weizmann Institute of Science’s observatory, named after ACWIS Executive Vice President Martin S. Kraar, was officially inaugurated in March, 2011. The observatory was erected on top of the service tower of the Koffler Accelerator building.

The observatory is designed to serve for both educational and scientific purposes. In order to cater for the needs of remotely located users, the observatory is designed ad equipped to be used in a robotic manner.  To this end, a dedicated, solid-state weather station tracks weather conditions throughout the night. This weather station has a unique cloud sensor which issues warning for the user in case visibility during the night deteriorates. The observatory’s equipment, such as dome lighting, air-conditioning system, etc. can all be activated by computer control. A low-light surveillance video camera augments the safety measures.

The observatory’s main telescope is a Meade 16” LX200 ACF Schmidt-Cassegrain design. It is equipped with a 1530x1020 pixels SBIG ST-8XME CCD camera, yielding 16.6x11.1 minutes of arc field of view at f/7. The telescope resides on a Software Bisque’s Paramount ME mount, the only one of its kind in Israel. The observatory is housed in a 4.2 meter diameter dome made by Ash-Dome. The dome is visible from everywhere in the campus, nesting on top of the accelerator building, the Weizmann Institute of Science’s landmark.

Although it is relatively new, the Martin S. Kraar observatory has already contribute to two major scientific discoveries. The observatory was among the first in the world to image the Type Ia supernova which exploded in nearby galaxy M51 at the end of May, 2011.

In addition, as part of the uFUN micro-lensing exoplanets survey, in August 2011 it was in the right location to register uniquely the telltale of a planet signature when its host star went through a micro-lensing event.

In addition to its scientific contribution, several tens of high-school students, preparing science projects in astronomy, have in the past and continue at present to exploit the capabilities of the observatory to obtain many nights of useful data. Some of the projects include measuring the diameter and rim height of craters on the moon, measuring the rotation rate of Jupiter around its axis, tracking the spin period of an asteroid, calculating the period of a variable star and more.

The observatory is also used for testing new, cutting edge imaging instrumentation for evaluating their utilization in scientific research.

A program is in development to incorporate the observatory in the curriculum of high school physics teachers studying for advanced degrees at the Institute.

The Martin S. Kraar observatory is operated under the auspices of the department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics. It is managed by Mr. Ilan Manulis.