Robert Martin Ayers

This is the website of Robert Martin Ayers. It includes both the "Robert Martin Ayers Sciences Fund" and the personal webpage of the proprietor, Robert Ayers.

Robert Ayers

I, the proprietor and manager of the Sciences Fund, graduated from Harvard in 1962 with a degree in astronomy. I went into aerospace and the then-new field of computer science -- first with General Electric's "Missiles and Space" division, later with Xerox -- the ex-SDS computer division, then office systems at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto (1971-1986), Digital Equipment's "Systems Research Center" (1986-1992), and Adobe Systems (1992-2005).

Retiring in early 2006, I decided to aid an area that I had been interested in for several years: the role of astronomy in education. There were three main factors:

I had been interested in astronomy since I was a teen.

The "National Observatory" of the United States, based at Kitt Peak Arizona, originally was chartered to support the astronomy activities of the smaller colleges and universities in the United States. But, starting around 1990, they decided to join the "giant telescope" bandwagon and they poured their (taxpayer) funding into new large telescopes and shed their support for the one-meter class telescopes that had been supporting the smaller college's research and PhD programs. I found the lack of support for "smaller" telescopes to be unfortunate.

Several educational organizations had discovered that astronomy could play a role in science education in the secondary schools. Teens are interested in astronomy, and space-based classroom acivities can introduce them to physics, statistics, and other related areas. These organizations include "Hands on Universe" and "Telescopes in Education". Also NASA outreach programs and, in Great Britian, the Faulkes Foundation.

I am currently the "proprietor" of the small Sciences Fund and a member of the Lowell Observatory Advisory Board.

I have a longer bio elsewhere on this site.

Robert Martin Ayers Sciences Fund

The sciences fund was initially created with Adobe stock ("Thanks, John and Chuck!") and exists to encourage astronomy and science research, especially as it relates to education. The fund is not a large one: its grants have ranged from four-figures to low six-figures.

To learn more about the sorts of activity that the fund hopes to support, read the page about the fund's criteria.

The fund's past and current activities include these:

Working with Lowell Observatory to rebuild a forty-inch Boller and Chivens telescope acquired from Northwestern. This telescope will be operatable over the internet and fifteen percent of its time will be available to outside organizations and individuals for astronomical observations. (This alas did not work out as Lowell and I intended, due to problems at Perth.)

Working with the PROMPT telescope consortium, based at UNC Chapel Hill, to make the consortium's four robotic telescopes in Chile available to researchers and educators. To learn more about this opportunity for free observing time on the PROMPT telescopes,, visit the PROMPT website

Working with the AAVSO to create "APASS", a homogeneous whole-sky photometric survey in five bandpasses down to magnitude 17. This multi-year project was initially funded in February 2009 and received additional funding in September 2010. My funding covers mostly capital expenses for equipment and costs of siting; the AAVSO is covering the costs of data-reduction and publication.

You can find a more complete list at the grants page.

Personal Astronomy

Separate from the above is my long interest in amateur astronomy: star-watching. I became interested in the ninth grade when my parents bought me a Criterion four-inch reflector and I have been interested ever since.

I currently live in the light-polluted San Francisco Bay area, alas. My nearby "dark sky" site is about 90 miles southeast of San Jose, at the 3000 feet elevation near the tops of the Diablo Range, where I own forty acres of off-grid grassland. At the TAC observing site list this is site "Willow Springs 3000". Persons in the bay area who might like to observe from this site are welcome to read the site's webpage and contact me.

Also, while looking for a good site, I examined a number of locations in San Benito and Monterey counties and further south; persons looking for a dark-sky site might read my page about observing sites and microwave relay sites.

My main telescope include an eight-inch "bent" short refractor with a flip-mirror switch to a four-inch. It was discussed in the Gary Seronik column in the September 2010 issue of Sky and Telescope. It is similar to the "bent" six-inch that was the subject of Seronik's column in the Sky and Telescope of December 2006 (PDF). I use the eight-inch Rich Field Telescope a lot at low powers with nebula filters. I also have a Questar Seven, ex-spook, that I use for higher magnifications, mostly on solar system objects.

Currently, at the Willow Springs 3000 site I have the "bent" six-inch and the Questar Seven which is being re-mounted on an AP-900.

Now retired, in 2008-2010 I looked for a more astronomy-friendly location than the San Francisco Bay Area. I explored north Arizona and central-west New Mexico and purchased (in August 2010) a hilltop dark-sky site fifty miles west of Flagstaff. It is "Smith Butte Arizona" and I own the entire butte. The 200 feet or so of elevation should keep the site in the good airflow at night, and out of "cool air flows downhill and puddles". As of 2012, I have moved the eight-inch "bent" short refractor to the Smith Butte site.

I'll be testing locations on the butte and deciding where to build a small observatory.

While exploring north Arizona, I found several buyable hilltop sites, one higher and darker (but more remote) than Smith Butte. If you are interested in dark skies between Kingman and Flagstaff, I'd be happy to correspond and share what I learned. I also explored locations in the Cloudcroft New Mexico area and in Catron County New Mexico -- again, I'd be happy to correspond.

How to choose a telescope is something that long-time amateurs are often asked about. Choosing a telescope can be difficult because there are so many choices -- not just among brands, but between basic types of telescope. And telescopes for children need to be chosen carefully, because kids are easily frustrated. I discuss this further at a page on choosing a telescope

Lowell Observatory

I worked at Lowell Observatory during the summer of 1960 when I was going to college. (Family friends knew the sole trustee.)

More recently, I have been a member of the Lowell advisory board and (starting June 2010) a member of the executive committee of the board.

It is "interesting times" for Lowell as an institution as they complete the Discovery Channel Telescope. Several years ago, Lowell was faced with the choice of becoming a national historical monument that dabbled in astronomy research, or reviving itself to be a astronomical research institution with an interesting past. The trustee Bill Putnam and the then Director Bob Millis chose the latter course -- not the easiest one, but one that, we hope, will create a Lowell Observatory for the twenty-first century.

Essays about Amateur Astronomy

I often get questions about amateur astronomy: its equipment, its opportunities. As I get writing time, I will expound about some of these topics here.

By far the most popular question is I am new to astronomy; what sort of telescope should I buy? I attempt to answer that in Buying a Telescope

A rich field telescope or RFT is a telescope used at very low powers to maximize the field of view for a given aperture. I discuss my RFTs and a bit of RFT theory at my RFT page.

Small Astronomy Computational Tools

When trying to convert from galactic l,b coordinates to various "equinox of date" coordinates, I became frustrated that available Internet tools required multiple steps.

So I wrote a Javascript program for coordinate conversions. You can find it at my 'tools' page along with other small tools I may create.



Individuals or groups with interests in this area are encouraged to contact me.

I can be reached via email at