PARI houses and hosts a variety of educational and research-grade radio and optical telescopes, as well as various other space and science instruments, available for use by researchers, educators and students.

When visiting PARI, it’s hard to miss our massive, NASA-grade radio telescopes which have become tourist attractions in their own right in the Pisgah region.

Radio Telescopes

Smiley, our 4.6m (15ft) radio telescope, is used remotely by educators and students in classrooms across the globe. The iconic “Smiley” face has greeted thousands of students from classrooms as far away as Australia. Smiley is used to introduce students to radio astronomy with research labs written to accepted science curricula standards.

The antenna is currently configured for 21 cm (1.42 GHz) neutral hydrogen. Using Smiley to collect data at this frequency, several online labs allow students to map radio sources, study the Doppler Effect, detect radio waves and even measure the rotational speed of our galaxy, the Milky Way!. This hands-on approach to learning has proven to be highly effective and popular among middle and high school students. Smiley has also been a useful tool for demonstrating remote control and interface software to college students.

The “smiley” face was painted as a joke since the Soviet Union was intensely interested in the former Department of Defense base and often sent satellites to photograph the campus. Each Soviet photo contained a “smiley face” as a friendly wave!

PARI’s 12.2-meter radio telescope is a precision surface antenna mounted on an elevation over azimuth configuration. The telescope is controlled and signals transmitted via fiber optics to and from the Cline Administration Building.

The prime focus feed is currently a 1.42 GHz receiver with a down-converter and SpectraCyber spectrometer..2

Smiley and the 12m remain two of the very few internet-controllable radio telescopes worldwide in which the user directly commands all instrument motion.

The largest and most visible scientific instruments on the PARI campus are the two 26-meter (85ft) radio telescopes. Originally constructed by NASA for communication with satellites and spacecraft, the antennas could move at 3° per second across the sky. PARI has invested more than $3 million to enhance the telescopes and adapt them for a slew rate of one-third of a degree per second and a slow-motion tracking rate of 15° per hour for radio astronomy, further enhancing their ability to track and communicate with satellites in low to deep space.

Both 26-meter radio telescopes point and track at sidereal or user-defined rates for astronomical observations. The control system was built by DFM Engineering, Inc. The 26m radio telescopes use position encoders with a resolution of 2 arcseconds and the addition of dual 11 KW computer-controlled servo motors on each axis. PARI continually verifies pointing and calibration of its pointing module to ensure accuracy meeting the specifications of current instrument uses.

In 1967, the western 26m radio telescope received NASA’s first color photo of the full Earth from space.

Optical Telescopes

DFM – 16″ Classical Cassegrain Telescope

Our research grade 0.4M Classical Cassegrain F/8. The 76mm flat field is fully shielded and unvignetted.

Finderscope: Questar 7″, F/13 with a 2″ flat field of view telescope.

Both telescopes have a 1/2 degree field of view.

Other Telescopes – 8″ – 25″

PARI host a collection of over 10 optical telescopes of differing focal ratio and mirror sizes.

Domes – our site hosts four domes with operative remote platforms.