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The UK Schmidt Telescope

Date created: 1977-08-28

Tags: UKST, UK Schmidt Telescope, telescope, Siding Spring Observatory, SSO, AAT

The UK Schmidt is a specialised telescope that was designed primarily for photography. It combines a wide field of view over six degrees across with superb optics and a very wide aperture of 1.2m. This design is often known as a 'Schmidt Camera' — imagine having a camera lens with a focal length of over 3 meters, working at F/2.5. It was intended to make a very deep photographic survey of the largely unexplored southern sky in a number of colours. The dark skies of Siding Spring and photographic expertise developed at the telescope ensured that this survey was a revelation to astronomers from around the world. This task is now completed and the survey images are publicly available in digital form, a development not foreseen when the telescope was constructed in 1973–4.

The telescope no longer takes photographs, but much of its effort is now devoted to spectroscopy, using optical fibres to collect the light from numerous individual galaxies and stars. The wide field, large aperture and clear, dark skies over the Warrumbungles remain a priceless advantage, and the telescope continues to make a significant contribution to international astronomy.

When the UK Schmidt telescope was built near the AAT in 1973, was an outstation of the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, wholly funded from British resources. It complemented the AAT perfectly, and its exquisite imaging and wide field optics have made many discoveries later followed up on the AAT. In 1988, it became part of the AAO, and when its photographic surveys came to an end a decade later, it was reconfigured as a wide field, multi-object spectroscopic survey instrument, using optical fibres to study many objects simultaneously.

Credit: David Malin

© Australian Astronomical Observatory