The RIT Observatory

The RIT Observatory promotes undergraduate teaching and research programs in astrophysical sciences and technology. 

Astronomy at RIT is shared in a collaborative sense between the School of Physics and Astronomy and the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, two academic units in the College of Science. The RIT Observatory was established to promote undergraduate teaching and research programs in astronomy and was the first result of this collaboration. While astronomy is not a major at RIT, a minor in astronomy exists and comprises several undergraduate courses offered through the Department of Physics and the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science. The minor in astronomy is administered by the Department of Physics. Undergraduate research opportunities in astronomy can be found in both the Department of Physics and the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.

RIT also has a Ph.D. program in Astrophysical Sciences and Technology involving Physics, Mathematics, and Imaging Sciences faculty. Several graduate courses are offered every quarter, and students work directly with their advisors on research projects.

In addition to the RIT Observatory, we have limited access to the WIYN 0.9m Observatory at Kitt Peak, Arizona. RIT is one consortium member that operates this telescope and has roughly six nights of observing time each year. Both undergraduate and graduate students may apply to travel to a really dark site to carry out a research project.


The RIT Observatory is located in a small white house at 645 John Street, in the southeastern corner of the RIT campus, near the corner of John Street and Bailey Road.

google map of location of RIT Observatory

The Observatory consists of three main buildings: a house, in which students and members of the public may gather, a structure with a roll-off roof (housing a 14-inch telescope) and a 5-meter dome (housing the 12-inch telescope). There is also a concrete pad with electric power upon which portable instruments may be placed for large groups to use.

Our house sits on the west side of John Street at number 645, just north of the intersection with Bailey Road. The telescope buildings are behind the house hidden from the road. There are quite a few trees to the East and South of the telescopes, which block a portion of the sky but also block lights from the street. Here are rough values for the local horizon caused by the trees (based on measurements made Aug 20, 2003):

  • Latitude +43.0758 degrees North = +43:04:33
  • Longitude 77.6647 degrees West of Greenwich = 77:39:53 W
  • Altitude 168 meters

Instructions for using the Observatory:

This view from the pad looks northeast past the 5-meter Ash Dome and the roll-off structure built by Arch Technology.

Here is the roll-off building with the roof fully extended, from the southern end, and from the west.

We used to have a 16-inch f/15 Autoscope Cassegrain reflector in this building, but its optics weren't very good, and it had such a long focal length (about 6000 mm) that its field of view was tiny. That made it very hard to find objects quickly, and so frustrated both telescope operators and people waiting to take a look.

In the winter of 2009, we installed a new telescope: a 14-inch f/10 Celestron. The telescope sits atop a big Astro-Physics German Equatorial mount which can be controlled by hand or by a computer.

We keep a 12-inch Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope inside the 5-meter dome, permanently mounted on an Astro Pier.

On Aug 26, 2006, we added a set of mounting rails and rings from Scope Stuff so that we can mount a small telescope on the 12-inch to act as a big guider. I hope this will help us to find objects when we use cameras with very small fields of view. The first instrument we'll try is a 90mm f/5.6 (500 mm focal length) Maksutov from Pro-Optics; it should provide much wider fields than the 3000mm of the 12-inch. We have some other small telescopes we can try, too.

The Meade 12-inch telescope lives inside this 5-meter Ash Dome.

The observatory also has several "portable" instruments, including:

A 8-inch f/5 Dobsonian (property of the RIT Astronomy Club an Astroscan, a Meade Starfinder 6-inch f/8 Newtonian (generously donated by Mr. Tim Thompson), and a 6-inch f/10 Newtonian (on loan from J. Kern).

The Sky Sentinel Allsky Camera Network places video cameras with fisheye lenses at many locations across North America in order to monitor the sky for bright meteors. If the same object can be detected by cameras at three or more locations, its trajectory can be measured accurately using trigonometry.

We have one of these devices on the Observatory grounds. It takes pictures of the sky from dusk to dawn. Special software provided by the project searches the video for fast-moving objects, and sends information on candidates to a central archiving system. You can see the latest candidates from our camera at the RIT recent candidates page.

For certain purposes, most notably occultations of stars by asteroids, it is important to have precise measurements of the time of an event. Kiwi Geoff has designed an On-Screen Display (OSD) unit which takes time signals from a GPS receiver and writes timestamps on each frame of a video signal.

During the Winter Quarter, 2004-2005, RIT physics major Matt Montanaro did an independent study project in which he put together two of the KIWI OSD units. You can read his report -- which includes a complete part list! -- in several formats:

We weren't able to test the unit on the sky during the winter quarter, due to very bad weather, but we are looking forward to doing so as clear skies return in the spring.

These are very rough, but may help one to make plans for using our cooled CCD cameras: an SBIG ST-8E and an SBIG-ST9.

16-inch 12-inch f/15 f/10 f/10 f/6 ------------------------------------------------------------------- unfiltered ST8 3x3 120sec 17-18 ST9 1x1 20sec 15-16 V filter ST8 3x3 30sec 16-17 -------------------------------------------------------------------


Jul 02, 2005: 16-inch f/15 + ST9 unfiltered, 20-sec exp yields scatter 0.10 mag for V ~ 15.5 star

There are also several pages describing the limiting magnitude of our video cameras under particular situations.


Below is a list of past observing sessions we have run at the RIT Observatory.