Following a thread of interest in space, astronomy and space exploration experiments conducted by Anacapa School students in its Near Space Exploration Club several years ago, Nikolaus Volgenau, operations scientist for the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network (LCOGT), was the featured speaker at Anacapa’s Breakfast Club on the morning of Jan. 14, 2016.
Volgenau’s visit to Anacapa offered students another up-close look at astronomical research.
Anacapa’s Breakfast Clubs are daily morning assemblies featuring speakers who come to share their work, projects, passions and stories with Anacapa’s 7-12th grade students.
The program, started early in Anacapa’s history, sets the school apart from other schools in the unique opportunity it offers students to interact with and learn from a wide variety of professionals and field experts.
As Head of School Gordon Sichi explained in his introduction, Anacapa’s relationship with Volgenau started before he came to Santa Barbara to work with LCOGT.
Previously employed by a program located in the Inyo Mountains of the Eastern Sierras called the Combined Array Research for Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA), Volgenau had hosted Anacapa students while they were on their beginning-of-the-year outdoor trip in 2012.
His tour of the CARMA facility allowed Anacapa students to get close to an extensive array of radio telescopes used to observe space.
Today, Volgenau is observing the heavens using optical telescopes. In fact, LCOGT uses a series of optical telescopes based all over the world to watch what happens in space in new ways.
In Volgenau’s words, “Now we can monitor objects in space all the time, around the clock, and around the world,” which explains LCOGT’s slogan, “We Keep You in the Dark.”
The series of telescopes located at six sites around the globe have the ability to follow night skies as the earth turns and provide constant up-to-the-minute access to what is happening in space.
Volgenau referred to this way of looking at space as “time domain science” and explained that it has taken ten years for LCOGT to build this series of telescopes that are “many telescopes, but one observatory” around the world.
LCOGT’s far-flung telescopes are robotically controlled from Goleta. Anacapa students marveled at the colorful images of galaxies, nebulae, supernovae, exoplanets and near-Earth objects (such as comets) taken by the LCOGT’s telescopes.
Volgenau’s talk to the students explained how LCOGT’s efforts had to be tested, researched and proven useful to scientists to become the “burgeoning area of astronomical research” it has become.
“We had to see if scientists would use it, if scientists could do research… Now we have done the work and the work has been recognized.”
Volgenau also told the students about his own path to becoming a scientist — a path he started by studying physics in college.
Later, after proving himself in a volunteer position, he was hired by Villanova University, which led to graduate school at San Diego State University and his discovery of a passion for space astronomy.
LCOGT is “now at he point where we are doing regular observation and ready to introduce ourselves to the world,” Volgenau explained.
It recently started hosting open houses at their facility in Goleta during which visitors can see LCOGT telescopes under construction and a test telescope located on the organization’s premises.
“We are very fortunate to have this much brain power in one place. It’s something Santa Barbara should be proud of,” Volgenau explained. “What is happening is significant. LCOGT will be a name people will know.”
— Hilary Doubleday represents Anacapa School.