Large binocular telescope to be dedicated in October 2004


Dedication ceremony in Tucson, Ariz. will unveil the world's most powerful ground-based telescope to an international audience

The LBT Corporation announced today that the dedication ceremonies for the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) will be held Oct. 15. This scientific achievement will be marked by a formal dedication dinner for partners and their guests. The media is invited to attend tours of the LBT and Arizona astronomy facilities in advance of the dedication.

The $120 million LBT is located on Mount Graham near Safford, Ariz. When fully operational in 2005, it will be the most technologically advanced ground-based telescope in the world. The LBT is unlike any other telescope because it utilizes twin 8.4-meter (27.6 foot) "honeycomb" mirrors that sit on a single mount. The mirrors are more rigid and lighter weight than conventional solid-glass mirrors and together will collect more light than any existing single telescope.

In another major innovation, the telescope is also equipped with adaptive optics secondary mirrors, which correct in real time the wavefront distortion and, hence, image blurring caused by atmospheric turbulence.

This results in much sharper images and allows astronomers to see objects deeper into space. Still sharper images can be obtained by combining the light from the two primary mirrors in the so-called "interferometric imaging" mode, which will yield images of faint celestial objects that are ten times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Peter A. Strittmatter, president of the LBT Corp., said, "This is a momentous occasion for everyone involved in this ground-breaking effort to take space exploration to the next level. The LBT will provide us with an unparalleled view of the Universe from the earliest epochs and provide major new capabilities for the study of exo-solar planets and the possibilities of life outside our solar system. We are extremely excited by the possibilities presented by the LBT and relish the opportunity to welcome the world to Southern Arizona to showcase this telescope."

John P. Schaefer, chairman of the LBT Corp. Board of Directors and president of the Research Corporation said, "The LBT project is a remarkable scientific achievement made possible through an unprecedented spirit of international cooperation. The LBT has grown from an idea on paper to an international partnership of over 15 institutions from around the world contributing directly to its successful implementation. This achievement is a tribute to what can be done when great minds come together."

The LBT is a collaborative project that brings together numerous astronomy and academic institutions in the United States and Europe. In addition to the financial commitment, each partner's unique expertise ensures this will be the most advanced ground-based telescope ever constructed. Core partners, their ownership interest, and examples of their contribution to the LBT include:

University of Arizona (25 percent). The innovative telescope mirrors being used for the LBT were cast and polished at the Universityıs Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory. The Mirror Lab is a pioneer in developing giant, lightweight mirrors of unparalleled power for the new generation of optical and infrared telescopes. The Mirror Lab has completed the first LBT mirror and is currently polishing the second to an accuracy of 30 nanometers, or 3,000 times thinner than a human hair. Steward Observatory in conjunction with NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab is also building the "LBT Interferometer," an instrument that provides unprecedented imaging capability at infrared wavelengths and in its "nulling" mode reduces the glare from stars thereby permitting the detection of orbiting planets or dust disks, which would otherwise be overwhelmed by the star light. The University also served as the lead for construction of the one-of-a-kind structure that houses the telescope. Scientists at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University will also share in the Arizona viewing time on the LBT.

"Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) (25 percent). INAF is a newly established Institution collecting all the Italian Observatories and Astronomical Research Institutes. A consortium of Italian astronomical observatories, led initially by the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory in Florence, and now by INAF, has been involved in the project since its inception... " The Italian partners were responsible for all the detailed design and fabrication of the major structural elements of the telescope, including the mirror cells that hold the telescopeıs twin mirrors. The structural parts were fabricated, pre-assembled and tested at the Ansaldo-Camozzi steel works in Milan; one of Italy's long-established steel fabrication companies.

The telescope was then disassembled and shipped by freighter to the U.S. and then transported overland to Mount Graham in 2002. The Italian partners also played a key role (along with Arizona) in developing and building the unique adaptive secondary mirror systems. They are also providing the twin prime focus cameras, known as the LBC, the first facility instruments for LBT.

LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft (LBTB) (25 percent). The LBTB is a consortium of German institutes and observatories led by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. The LBTB is developing the LUCIFER instrument pair for near infrared imaging and spectroscopy at the LBT. It will operate in both "seeing" and diffraction-limited modes, the latter exploiting fully the capabilities enabled by the adaptive secondary mirrors. As such, LUCIFER is a key instrument for the LBT and will provide astronomers with extraordinary observational capability at near infrared wavelengths. The PEPSI instrument, a high-resolution Echelle spectrograph, is also being developed by the Astrophysics Institute of Potsdam (AIP) and will allow astronomers to understand the structure and dynamics of the surface magnetic fields of solar-type stars. AIP will also deliver two Acquisition, Guiding, and Wavefront sensing units for the telescope. LBTB has also made contributions to numerous aspects of the telescope including mirror supports and software. LBTB, in conjunction with INAF is developing the LINC/NIRVANA instrument which will provide interferometric imaging capability at visible wavelengths.

The Ohio State University (OSU) (12.5 percent). OSU has developed and refined the technology to deliver a whisper-thin coating of aluminum to be deposited on the glass surface of the mirrors. The unique bell jar and vacuum system will allow aluminization to take place while the mirrors are still positioned on the telescope. OSU also has lead responsibility for the design and fabrication of the LBT's visible light spectroscopy instrument, the Multi-Object Double Spectrograph (MODS), a low-to-medium resolution spectrograph and imager. Two full MODS spectrographs will be built with support from the University of Arizona, as well as the Ohio Board of Regents and the National Science Foundation.

Research Corporation (12.5 percent) The Research Corporation was established in 1912 to promote the advancement of science in the United States. It has focused on supporting astronomy, chemistry and physics and has played key roles in several astronomical projects including Grote Reber's pioneering work in radio astronomy. By becoming an LBT partner in 1992, the Research Corporation ensured that adequate funding was available to maintain project momentum at a critical stage in the development of the LBT. It has also facilitated the participation of OSU, University of Notre Dame, the University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia in the project.

The LBT Corp. was established in 1992 to undertake the construction and operation of the LBT. The LBT Corp. Board of Directors oversees the project. It has established the LBT Observatory and appointed Director John Hill to coordinate the construction work and to operate the facility. The Observatory currently has a staff of approximately 50 scientists, engineers and technicians.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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