A new high-tech dome at Skinakas

dome Announcement Date : 

The 2022 calendar year was an impressive one for Skinakas Observatory. The Director of the Observatory, Vassilis Charmandaris, enthusiastically informed us that "During the past year, a new building with a 5.3m diameter dome was completed thanks to funding from a competitive Interreg Greece-Cyprus program supplemented by funds of the University of Crete, while we placed the order for a new 1m optical telescope named "200+", thanks to the donation of the Committee "Greece 2021". A new telescope to be located in the new dome!"

He also informed us that, thanks to the continued support of the Region of Crete and the Municipality of Anogeia, the widening and maintenance of the last 5km of the road leading up to the Skinakas peak begun last summer, and it already makes it safer for all of us to visit the Observatory.

The new high tech dome at Skinakas.

However, the plans of the ambitious astronomers of Crete do not stop here.

A new high tech dome will replace the old one that has been protecting the 1.3m telescope, the most productive research telescope in our country, since 1995. Moreover, the installation will commence on New Year’s Eve.

Konstantinos Tassis, Professor of the Department of Physics of the University of Crete and coordinator of the international PASIPHAE project explains: "The technology of the new dome is essential to enable us to successfully carry out our observations by measuring the polarisation of distant stars with the ultra-sensitive WALOP instrument that we built thanks to a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation." and continues "Both the unique red colour of the dome which scares the vultures, and the fluffy cotton thermal insulation give us an advantage over the competition. In particular the innovative dome component that looks to some extent like a 'tassel' will reduce the effects of strong winds that often blow on the mountain top making the observations very challenging."

But the new dome technology is a concern for George Paterakis, an experienced engineer working for 23 years at the observatory. "Personally I don't like all the new electronic automation of the dome" and he adds: "Typically I use barbwire and double-sided adhesive tape when I want to secure our domes, but the times are changing and we have to adapt."

The cost of the dome has not be disclosed. Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Astrophysics Vasiliki Pavlidou tells us : "The procurement of the new dome was made possible after a generous donation from Elon Musk's US company SpaceX" and she continued "The famous entrepreneur and visionary who, as is widely known from his recent Twitter purchase, avoids all publicity, seems to be excited by the Skinakas Observatory and its commercial potential in the fields of optical ground-to-space communications and tracking of LEO and MEO satellites so he has decided to invest in Crete. "

Rumors that Elon made his decision after a "dynamic visit" into his Spaceport offices located in Boca Chica, Texas by the Director of  Skinakas Observatory along with a delegation of representatives from the greater Mylopotamos region of mountainous Crete, who "made him an offer he could not refuse", have not been confirmed.

In addition to this iconic project that has Musk's stamp of approval, during the coming year we'll have the construction by the Municipality of Anogia of the "Astroschool", a new multipurpose building with an 85-seat amphitheater, as well as the long waited connection of the summit with the electric grid of the island, funded by the Region of Crete. Moreover, before the end of 2023, the connection of the Observatory with Heraklion by an optical fibre will be established, thanks to the HellasQCI programme funded by the European Commission and the Ministry of Digital Governance.

Finally, two more new purely astronomical research infrastructures, that of an innovative radio telescope called "ARGOS" and an array of 16 small robotic telescopes known as "TURBO", which can image every point of the sky above Skinakas within 2 seconds of an alert, will commence their construction in the coming summer.

Closing, the Director of the Skinakas Observatory wished everyone happy holidays and a healthy 2023, which being the "Year of the Rabbit" according to the Chinese calendar, is expected to be particularly productive for the astronomers of Crete!