NMSU professor named director of telescope at Apache Point Observatory

NMSU professor named director of telescope at Apache Point Observatory

Nancy Chanover is the first New Mexico State University astronomy professor to be named director of the 3.5-meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory.


Head and shoulders of a woman
Nancy Chanover is the first New Mexico State University astronomy professor to be named director of the 3.5-meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The NMSU astronomy department operates the observatory for the Astrophysical Research Corporation (ARC), a collaborative partnership of eight universities that includes NMSU, University of Washington, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia State University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Virginia, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Wyoming.

APO is home to four astronomical telescopes. The ARC 3.5-meter telescope is used with spectrographs and imaging devices to make observations at optical and infrared wavelengths. Observations using the telescope can be carried out remotely using a telescope user interface via the Internet. It is a general-purpose telescope used by ARC partners and their students for a wide range of astronomical research, from observing relatively nearby planets to distant galaxies.

“I would like to explore ways in which the 3.5-meter telescope can be used for teaching/training of astronomy graduate students,” said Chanover, an associate professor of astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We currently use it to train our own NMSU astronomy graduate students and students from ARC universities as well as students from several lease partners in observational astronomy techniques, but potentially it could play a larger role for training students at universities that don’t have easy access to telescopes. One of the smaller telescopes at APO, called ARCSAT, has been used for undergraduate student research projects at NMSU and I expect we would continue that.”

For the last 12 years, Suzanne Hawley, professor from the University of Washington had served as director of the 3.5-meter telescope. A search committee reviewed several applications for the position among member institutions and selected Chanover for the three-year appointment, which became effective in January. The appointment may be renewed after a performance review. The position will provide Chanover with a summer salary and a modest travel budget.

“We were very pleased with Dr. Chanover's application and qualifications and she had the full support of the ARC Board for her appointment,” said Rene Walterbos, NMSU astronomy professor and chair of the ARC Board. “Nancy has been a long-time user of the APO 3.5-meter telescope since her graduate student years at NMSU, she has developed new instrumentation and has experience with all instruments on the telescope. She has also in many capacities in her faculty job demonstrated excellent leadership qualifications and talent.”

The director works in close association with the site manager Mark Klaene as well as permanent site staff, representatives of the member ARC universities, and the larger national community to meet the scientific needs of ARC 3.5-meter telescope users. Chanover is expected to propose initiatives, manage operating budgets and plan priorities to the ARC Board of Governors. The director has the responsibility and authority to assure smooth operations of the observatory.

In addition to her duties at APO, Chanover will continue her teaching and her research involving the study of planetary atmospheres. She also serves as the principal investigator for NASA’s Planetary Data System Atmospheres Discipline Node located at NMSU, which archives all data from planetary spacecraft missions.

“I view this new role as being one that can have a broader impact on the astronomy research being done at NMSU and the other ARC member institutions,” Chanover said. “By continuing to ensure that the facility operates smoothly and efficiently, and is responsive to the changing demands placed on ground-based astronomical facilities, I hope to position the 3.5-meter telescope to continue to deliver high-quality data and enable important scientific discoveries by all ARC members in the future.”

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