Whole Earth Telescope
Donate Now
In 1986, scientists from the University of Texas Astronomy Department established a world-wide network of cooperating astronomical observatories to obtain uninterrupted time-series measurements of variable white dwarf stars. The technological goal was to resolve the multi-periodic oscillations observed in these objects into their individual components; the scientific goal was to construct accurate theoretical models of the target objects, constrained by their observed behavior, from which their fundamental astrophysical parameters could be derived. This approach has been extremely successful, and has placed the fledgling science of stellar seismology at the forefront of stellar astrophysics.

This network, now known as the Whole Earth Telescope (WET) is run as a single astronomical instrument with many operators. The collaboration includes scientists from around the globe in data acquisition, reduction, analysis, and theoretical interpretation. For the first decade of its existence, the WET was headquartered at the University of Texas in Austin. When WET founder Dr. Edward Nather retired as director in 1997, WET HQ moved to Iowa State University, and in 2006 it moved to its current home at the Delaware Asteroseismic Research Center.

During a WET observation, operation is coordinated from a single command center by electronic mail and long-distance telephone. Data returned by e-mail from the various sites are reduced, combined, and subjected to preliminary analysis in real time, to maximize the effective use of the whole instrument. Following the run, the principal scientist reduces all the data and drafts a preliminary manuscript, which is circulated through the collaborators for that particular project. When all of them approve, the final results are submitted for publication.

Currently, a significant component of the WET involves sending seasoned observers from the U.S. to other (frequently developing) countries where the equipment, expertise, or scientific interest has not yet developed. While there, they work with local astronomers during the actual observing run. Sending individuals and equipment to distant observatories is the greatest financial expense for the project. A major operational goal of the WET collaboration is to share the technical and scientific expertise and results from the WET project with all interested astronomers and technicians. To do so requires bringing them to the U.S. to learn directly from the project originators. They would then return to their home countries with new tools, software, knowledge, and most importantly, enthusiasm. By building on these fundamental resources they can participate in future WET campaigns, and observing programs of their own, at a level comparable to nations in current leadership positions.

Visual frame for the bottom of the page