Wayne Christiansen, left, and Bruce Carney worked for years to make SOAR soar.
A Semester in the Heavens
For Wayne Christiansen it was like Christmas in April. The physics and astronomy profes-
sor and director of the Morehead Observa-
tory traveled to Chile for the April dedica-
tion of the Southern Astrophysical Research
(SOAR) telescope - a hard-science coup
that could put UNC on the astronomical
A-list. The opening was nearly two decades
ofpersistence in coming.
"It was like an 18-year sustained dream
that finally canle true," Christiansen said.
"My wife, I think, probably said it best. She
said it was just wonderful watching all of us
... walking around like it was Christmas."
The SOAR is a 13-foot aperture tele-
scope designed to produce the highest-
quality in1ages of any observatory in its
class worldwide. Perched atop Cerro
S epte m ber / 0 eta ber 2 aa4
Pachon, a ridge on the western edge of the
Chilean Andes 9,000 feet above sea level, it
can be operated by students and faculty
through a control room in the Morehead.
The University will control 124 half-nights
of observation per year. It's expected to be
fully operating by the end of the year.
Along with remote access, 13 Carolina
students are studying at the source this fall
in the first Burch Field Research Seminar
on Observational Astronomy.
The dream of SOAR was hatched in
1986 as UNC approached its Bicentennial.
Research astronomers wanted to contribute
to the strong astronomy legacy that began
with the purchase of the University's first
telescope in 1824, and the first planetarium
ever built on a college campus in 1949.
Christiansen and Bruce Carney, profes-
sor and chair ofphysics and astronomy,
played critical roles in the creation of and
financing of SOAR.
At times it seemed as ifthe project
would fall through. The $32 million tele-
scope finally was paid for through a public-
private partnership anlong the U.S.
National Optical Astronomy Observatory,
the Ministry of Science of Brazil, Michigan
State University and UNC.
The technology - almost unparalleled
optics, computerized remote controls and
"quick change" instruments that allow the
different types of equipment on the tele-
scope to be changed in a matter of seconds
instead of days - is ahead ofits tin1e.
Students have been involved with the
development of SOAR from the beginning
- one helped develop the sophisticated