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Saturday, November 28, 2015

February at the LTO



Public Star Night at the Little Thompson Observatory
850 Spartan Ave at Berthoud High School
(park east of the high school; directions are posted on the website,

Friday, February 21, 2014 7:00 – 11:00 pm

LTOThe guest speaker is Dr Paul Lightsey, mission systems engineer at Ball Aerospace, and the title of his talk is “The James Webb Space Telescope: The Magic’s in the Mirrors.”

Jwebb telescopeThe James Webb Space Telescope is sometimes referred to as the Hubble telescope’s “Cosmic Successor,” but what does that mean? With its amazing mirrors, this infrared telescope will surpass Hubble’s capabilities. Its increased sensitivity will see deeper into space and detect light from the Universe’s earliest stars and galaxies.

Like most telescopes, the Webb achieves its vision with a series of mirrors, but its primary mirror is unlike any other. For starters, the primary mirror is the largest ever flown in space. At 6.5 meters diameter, it’s 2.5 times bigger than Hubble’s primary mirror. The Webb’s unique design of 18 separate hexagon-shaped mirrors allows it to be folded into a launch rocket.

JWT mirrorsThese gold-coated mirrors must work together as one mirror, and small mechanical motors called actuators make this happen. They move the mirrors tiny distances to keep them aligned with each other. And the entire mirror system must function in a deep freeze—at temperatures as low as –400 degrees Fahrenheit!

Ball Aerospace has designed and built the Webb’s optical system, and Paul Lightsey is Ball’s chief engineer for this program. Join Paul for a discussion of the telescope and future astronomy. Enjoy hands-on activities and take home space posters and other space goodies—for both children and adults!

Paul Lightsey is a mission systems engineer at Ball Aerospace. He has over 45 years’ experience in physics, math, and engineering, much of it in optical systems such as those on the Hubble Space Telescope. He holds a B.S. in Physics from Colorado State University, a M.S. and PhD in Physics from Cornell University.

He previously served as the systems engineer and systems analyst for two of the Hubble Space Telescope instruments. He developed a system optical performance model for design analysis of Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR), the corrective optics for the Hubble. The model includes the effects of structural dynamics and thermal effects on the imaging performance and was also used for the design of Near-Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer and Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.

“Being involved with COSTAR and having the opportunity to recover the full capabilities of an asset like Hubble – it was very meaningful work,” said Lightsey.

In 2007, NASA honored Dr Lightsey with a Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest honor given to a nongovernmental employee. To receive the honor, the contribution must be so extraordinary that other forms of recognition would be inadequate.

“Knowing that I helped contribute to these missions is a real thrill,” said Lightsey. “As a scientist myself I appreciate working in an environment that is sensitive to the needs of science. The size of the company and its culture really lends itself to this type of work.”

Paul Lightsey was born and raised in Wray, Colorado, and currently lives in Greeley with his wife, Carol, and their horses, dogs, cats, and occasionally sheep. They enjoy outdoor activities, nature observation, genealogy, and choral singing. He’s been active in the past in competitive race walking (six national medals) and running, including the Boston Marathon. They have one grown married daughter who is a biologist and carries on the family tradition of interest in nature and has provided them with a delightful granddaughter.

The observatory doors will open at 7:00 pm and the presentation will start at 7:30 pm. The Observatory will be open after his slide show, probably around 8:30 pm

After the presentation, and with weather permitting, the visitors will be invited to look through the large telescopes at various celestial objects.

Public star nights at LTO are held the third Friday of each month (except July, when the LTO is closed for annual maintenance). No reservations are necessary for these nights. Just come and join in for the talk and some observing afterwards.

If you have any questions, please call the observatory information line at 970-613-7793 or check the LTO web site at:

Public Star Nights at the Pioneer Museum, 224 Mountain Avenue in Berthoud, home of the historical 6” Brashear Refractor from John Bunyan, are held on the first Friday of each month. If you have any questions, please call the Bunyan observatory information line at 970-532-2147 or check the web site at:

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