From Crane’s love of
the cosmos comes new era for stargazers
Photo by Andrew Shurtleff
|Jeff Crane came to U.Va. to study the stars and leaves
with a Ph.D. in
By Fariss Samarrai
During Jeff Crane’s seven years as an astronomy graduate student at U.Va.,
he has been up all night many nights operating a console that looks like it could
steer the space shuttle. It does aim and operate a sizable telescope.
time is precious,” he said recently as he stood at U.Va.’s
Mountain Observatory, staring off into space, so to speak.
Crane is in love with the cosmos.
“It’s great up here at night,” he said. “I usually work
by myself, absorbed in my observations of the dark and clear sky full of
He drinks a lot of coffee “to stay coherent.”
But while Crane always knew he wanted to study the stars,
he didn’t know
when he came to U.Va. that his career path would veer to a merging of science
and technology. As he has studied the structure of the Milky Way, he has also
learned to design some of the instruments that are used to observe the far reaches
of the universe.
Crane is the astronomy department’s first Ph.D. graduate in its new instrument
design program. These days, astronomy students are building spectrographs and
infrared cameras that are giving new sight to old optical telescopes.
I came here, there was no real program for instrument design,
but a real need to make the Fan Mountain Observatory a more
viable research facility,” Crane
The new program is led by astronomy professor Mike Skrutskie,
a leading instrumentalist who came to U.Va. in 2001.
The program is attracting
and contributing directly to the development of hardware for new
and existing telescopes
at U.Va. and elsewhere.
While working on his dissertation, Crane has also spent the
past four years building and installing a spectrograph
at the Fan Mountain
in southern Albemarle
County. A spectrograph breaks white light into its component colors,
astronomers to view wavelengths and thereby determine the distances
and sizes of stars.
This new instrument enhances and broadens the capabilities of the
Fan Mountain 40-inch telescope.
is part of a big effort to get the observatory into a research-ready
By adding the spectrograph, and a forthcoming infrared camera,
the Fan Mountain Observatory is becoming a more valuable research
small size of its optical telescopes.
Crane’s dissertation involves refining a method for measuring the nearby
mass of the Milky Way. It’s a problem he could spend his life trying to
solve. His adviser is astronomer Steve Majewski, a leading galaxy researcher
who recently earned a great deal of media coverage for his discovery of our Milky
Way’s cannibalization of the smaller Sagittarius Galaxy.
After graduation, Crane, an Arizona native, is headed to
Pasadena, Calif., where he will build a new spectrograph
to be used for
by the Carnegie
Observatories. But like many U.Va. students, he hopes to
someday return to Charlottesville.
like the trees here, the University, the astronomy department,” he said. “I’d
like to find my way back.”