Live From...the Stratosphere
Ted Dunham, Biography

Name: Ted Dunham

Position: Principal Investigator

I have two hats to wear with the KAO project. I am one of the astronomers who makes observations with the airplane, and I am also the Project Scientist for the KAO.

My astronomy work centers around observations of occultations of stars by planets. An occultation happens when a planet (or ring or satellite or asteroid) passes between an observer and a star. The star is so far away that it looks like a point source of light and acts like a little probe. If a planet has an atmosphere, we can measure its temperature by watching how the starlight fades away when the star is covered by the planet. Occultations are also very accurate ways to measure the size and shape of ob jects that don't have an atmosphere, like planetary rings and asteroids.

As Project Scientist, I work with the KAO staff to provide the scientist's perspective when they are building new equipment for the airplane, and I help run the review of proposals to use the airplane. I really enjoy making equipment and observing with it , working with the KAO folks (a great group!), and flying on the KAO. The part I like the least is the paperwork.

I have been interested in astronomy and airplanes since I was a kid, and really started to get involved in astronomy when I was in high school. I built a telescope and learned to take pictures with it. I went to college, majoring in physics and then went to graduate school in planetary astronomy.

As a kid I read all sorts of books on astronomy, photography, and telescope making. I subscribed to Sky and Telescope, and read back issues of Scientific American for their Amateur Telescope Maker columns. I taught myself the constellations and how to dev elop my own film. I talked to a teacher at a local college about my telescope when I was just starting to build it, and he introduced me to Russell Ferlen, the instrument maker in the Physics department. Russ taught me a lot about metalworking and always insisted on making things the right way - no short cuts. He helped me with the tricky parts of my telescope and let me make a small observatory for it at his place just out of town. On cold nights (-20 to -30F in the winter in Minnesota) he and his wife w ould leave their door unlocked so I could thaw out in front of their furnace. He gave me lots of interesting old books and miscellaneous telescope parts.

I like to get outdoors to go on backpacking and canoe trips. I love to sail and scuba dive, but don't get much chance to do those things.

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