Steve Kawaler, Physics and Astronomy, (515) 294-9728
Marjorie Sandner, News Service, (515) 294-6881


AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University is now the official headquarters for the Whole Earth Telescope (WET), a worldwide network of optical telescopes located across the globe.

Steve Kawaler, an Iowa State professor of physics and astronomy and director of WET, recently received a $220,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation. While WET has been based at ISU since 1997, the new grant puts the facility on firmer ground.

"This grant makes WET's move to Iowa State 'official' and allows us to keep operating for the next three years," Kawaler said.

WET is a network of 22 observatories in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Locations include the U.S. Poland, France, China, South Africa, Brazil, Chile, New Zealand and Australia.

WET has the unique ability to provide 24-hour monitoring of a single astronomical object, Kawaler said. It does this by having individual observatories monitor an object when it's above the local horizon.

As the Earth rotates and the object sets (or the sun rises), it comes into the field of view of another WET observatory. Thus, WET is run as a single astronomical instrument. Many operators and scientists from around the world participate in data acquisition, reduction, analysis and theoretical interpretation, Kawaler said.

The around the clock monitoring of a single object is vital for the current WET observation run (Oct. 31 to Nov. 14). During this run, astronomers will observe the ancient star HL Tau 76, which is a star that represents the final fate of our own sun.

Astronomers using WET want to learn how many types of pulsations are going on inside HL Tau 76. This requires that a close watch be kept on the star 24 hours a day for as many days as possible, Kawaler said. The data will allow astronomers to do a seismological analysis of the star, which will give them an idea of the physical conditions deep within it.

"This is very similar to the way we probe the Earth's interior using seismic waves generated by earthquakes," Kawaler said. "Vibrating stars like HL Tau 76 give us the rare opportunity to 'see' inside stars. By studying it, we are looking far into the future of our own sun. By understanding this star's fate, we can learn about the fate of our Earth and our solar system."

WET is a program of the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics, a collaboration between Iowa State, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and industrial partners.

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