Table Mountain Observatory

The Pomona College 1-Meter (40-inch) Telescope resides at NASA JPL’s Table Mountain Facility high in the mountains above Wrightwood. The 40 inch telescope is shared with JPL and offers an advanced control system developed by Peter Mack.

Instruments include a 4096×4096 pixel thermo-electrically cooled Apogee Alta U16 CCD camera; custom built 4- and 8-position filter wheels that allow for broad-band and narrow-band imaging, as well as polarimetry; a liquid nitrogen cooled near-infrared camera useful for studying dense interstellar clouds and star-forming regions; and a new adaptive optics system funded by a $630,000 NSF grant to Dr. Philip Choi.


The telescope was designed by Dr. Robert Chambers, and was built during the period from 1982-1985. Since then, upgrades in the control electronics and motors have been made. The telescope was an ambitious project, and was made possible by the vision of Dr. Chambers, and the hard work of many physics department staff and students. In fact, many of the original non-optical parts were machined and assembled here at Pomona College by machinist Glenn Flohr. Despite the heroic efforts of these fine people, the telescope remained largely unused due to a serious problem with the mirror set which was installed in the early 1980s.

In 1994, a large grant from the NSF ILI program was approved for The Claremont Colleges. The grant was authored by Dr. Shane Burns of Harvey Mudd College, Dr. Bryan Penprase, Dr. Alma Zook, and Dr. Steve Naftilan. The grant enabled The Claremont Colleges to upgrade the optics on the Pomona College 40 inch telescope by purchasing a new primary and secondary mirror. The replacement of the TMO optics was supervised by Dr. Bryan Penprase, who ordered new mirrors from Rayleigh Optical Company of Tucson, Arizona, headed by Dave Anderson. The primary mirror was constructed from a 1-meter blank of Corning ULE (Ultra-Low Expansion) Glass, and the secondary was constructed from Schott Zerodur glass. The mirrors were polished and tested using a patented holographic test plate technique developed by Dave Anderson.

The final installation of the new optics took place at Table Mountain during the summer of 1996 and included a team of staff and students who helped install and test the optics. With the improved optics, the image quality of the 40 inch telescope was found to be superb, and this has made many new astronomical imaging research projects possible. Students also use the telescope, both in classes such as Astronomy 1, Astronomy 3, and Astronomy 101 and in the course of their own research towards a thesis or for a professor.

Additional funding for the TMO telescope came from grants from the NSF ILI program to Bryan Penprase in 1999, and from the Fletcher Jones Foundation, who funded an “Astronomical Computing Initiative” in 2001. These new grants enabled an upgrade of the control systems and operating system to enable remote observing with the telescope. By 2005 the system was available for use by students in Claremont. Additional funding from JPL and by the NSF has enabled the development of a polarimetry system, and an infrared camera, respectively. The polarimetry instrument was designed and tested by Pomona and HMC students, and the infrared camera developed at HMC and tested by Pomona students. The most recent funding has enabled the TMO telescope to use a state of the art adaptive optics system, from a grant to PI Phil Choi. This exciting new instrument, known as KAPAO.