Student Jeff Crane Studies The Stars And Creates The Tools To Track
May 7, 2004 --
Jeff Crane’s seven years as an astronomy
graduate student at the University of Virginia, he has been up
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 Fan Mountain Observatory, staring off into space,
so to speak.
is in love with the cosmos.
great up here at night,” he said. “I usually
work by myself, absorbed in my observations of the dark and
clear sky full of stars.”
drinks a lot of coffee “to stay coherent.”
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
of the Milky Way, he has also learned to design some
of the instruments that are used to observe the far reaches of
is the astronomy department’s first Ph.D.
graduate in its new instrument design program. These days,
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 said.
new program is led by astronomy professor Mike Skrutskie, a leading
instrumentalist who came to
U.Va. in 2001.
The program is attracting high-quality students
and contributing directly
the development of hardware for new and existing
telescopes at U.Va. and elsewhere.
working on his dissertation, Crane has also spent the past four
years building and installing
Mountain Observatory in southern Albemarle County.
A spectrograph breaks
white light into its component colors, allowing
astronomers to view wavelengths and thereby determine the distances
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
adding the spectrograph, and a forthcoming infrared camera, the
Fan Mountain Observatory is becoming a more
small size of its optical telescopes.
dissertation involves refining a method for measuring the nearby
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.
graduation, Crane, an Arizona native, is headed to Pasadena,
where he will build a new spectrograph
to be used for
by the Carnegie
Observatories. But like many U.Va. students, he hopes
someday return to Charlottesville.
“I like the trees here, the University, the astronomy department,” he
like to find my way back.”
Fariss Samarrui, (434) 924-3778