California’s Lick Observatory supported by generous Google gift

Avatar By Andrew McDonald | 6 years ago

According to a University of California, Santa Cruz statement, UC’s Lick observatory has received a $1 million gift from Google Inc. The funding will be meted out over two years and will cover general expenses and supplement the annual $1.5 million granted to the observatory by the UC Office of the President. The observatory serves all 10 campuses under the UC umbrella.

Lick Observatory was founded in 1888 and resides at the top of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose. The observatory’s seven telescopes include the Katzmann Automatic Imaging Telescope, which searches for supernovae every night; the Automated Planet Finder, which peers at multiple stars every night to detect any planets they might host; and the Shane and Nickel telescopes, which are available for use by faculty, researchers, postdocs, and graduate and undergraduate students in the UC system.

The Shane telescope will be one of the initial beneficiaries of the new influx of funds; UC will hire an additional operator to prevent occasional closures due to a staff shortage. The money will help to continue Lick’s admirable record of scientific achievements. Many of the first 100 exoplanets discovered were found using instruments at Lick. Lick astronomers also contributed to our knowledge of supermassive black holes in the hearts of galaxies. Lick’s ability to catalogue supernovae helped to confirm that the universe’s expansion is accelerating; this discovery won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics and the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

“Lick’s telescopes enable science projects that need lots of repeated observations during the course of a year or more; these can be done much more successfully at Lick than at the 8-10-meter telescopes, where observing time is extremely tight,” explained UC Santa Cruz astronomy professor and University of California Observatories interim director Claire Max. “Google’s very generous gift will make it possible for Lick to provide these opportunities and to continue to develop forefront tools such as adaptive optics, which removes image blurring caused by turbulence in Earth’s atmosphere.”