Spanning the Spectrum

Olivier Thizy of Shelyak Instruments in France displays the company's LHIRES III spectrograph, one of many fascination products seen at this year's RTMC Astronomy Expo in California.
S&T: Dennis di Cicco
Whether your interest in astronomy was simple naked-eye stargazing at night or talking advanced optical designs by day, the RTMC Astronomy Expo held this past Memorial Day weekend in the San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear Lake, California, offered something for every astronomy enthusiast. And those of us proudly wearing a gear-head badge found a seemingly endless array of fascinating products on display.

One that particularly caught my eye was the LHIRES III spectrograph brought to the gathering by Olivier Thizy of Shelyak Instruments in France. Olivier also showed the spectrograph at the Society for Astronomical Sciences meeting that immediately preceded the Expo. The highly versatile instrument operates visually and photographically with a wide range of film, digital, and astronomical CCD cameras. It works as a stand-alone device for bright light sources such as the Sun, or it can be attached to a variety of telescopes for viewing the spectra of stars, planets, and comets.

The based on a Littrow-design, the LHIRES III offers a remarkable 0.2-angstrom resolution at blue wavelengths when fitted with its standard reflection grating having 1,200 lines per millimeter. Optional gratings with a few as 150 lines per mm are available for low-resolution spectra of faint sources. With prices starting around 1,900 Euro (about $2,600) for an assemble-it-yourself kit, the LHIRES III has a particularly noteworthy cost-to-performance ratio. There is also a lower-cost "Lite" version designed for visual observations of bright sources.

Check out the Shelyak Instruments' multi-language website for more details on both spectrographs, as well as lots of information on the recreational and scientific applications of spectrometry in the world of astronomy.

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