May 28, 2020

30.10.09:The World’s Largest Telescope is Unveiled.

Move over Keck… the world’s largest telescope is now in service! The Gran Telescopio Canaris (GTC) was commissioned this summer on July 24th. Perched on La Palma island in the Canary Islands, this beast sports a 10.4-meter segmented mirror. This gives it a collection area over 6 square meters larger than contending 8 to 10 meter instruments world-wide. A joint effort of Spain, Mexico, and the University of Florida, this instrument is expected to further push back our understanding of the frontiers of astronomy. Of course, as reported earlier, bigger scopes are on the drawing board; but as astronomy moves out beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, the age of the terrestrial mega-scope may be coming to an end in our lifetime. Scopes like the GTC rely of computer sensors to keep its 36 mirror segments aligned and acting as one. This is much easier than the old school method of casting one giant parabolic mirror, which would be cumbersome and nearly impossible from an engineering standpoint. The GTC sits at an altitude of 2,400 meters, well above a good bulk of the blurring atmosphere. Other scopes, such as the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) on Mount Graham, Arizona, rely on a technique known as interferometry to increase resolution. This places two telescopes along a precisely measured base line, and thus provides the resolution of one large mirror. Terrestrial scopes up to 100 meters (!) in size have been proposed and are on the drawing board…let the scope wars begin!

02.10.09: A Small Observatory Helps with a Big Discovery.

When it comes to cutting edge astronomy, many think of lofty mountaintop behemoths, such as Keck, or the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. But how many of us think of… Gainesville, Florida? This article caught my eye this morning because its literally right in our backyard here at Astroguyz HQ in Hudson, Florida. As any would-be Floridian astronomer knows, the Sunshine State is not an optimal environment for astronomy, as humid, damp, East Coast conditions predominate. But that didn’t stop astronomers at the University of Florida in Gainesville from using the Rosemary Hill Observatory in nearby Bronson to help with observations of a transiting exoplanet; HD 80606b. 200 light-years distant, this hot-Jupiter is in an extremely eccentric orbit and was only recently realized to be a transiter, i.e. to occasionally pass in front of its host star as seen from Earth. Astronomers, however, were faced with a problem; the next transit was due occur June 4th of this year, when HD 80606b would be low in the twilight sky. This meant that observations of the eclipse could only occur over a short span from any given longitude. Enter U of F astronomers Ford, Reyes and Colon, who realized that Rosemary Hill might just be positioned to catch such an event. Located, as is most of Florida, at a scant 140 feet above sea level, Rosemary Hill may just qualify as the “lowest” observatory in the world. It sports 30” and 18” reflecting telescope(s), which are primarily used for education and training, as the U of F astronomers tend to travel to the “big guns” in the Canary Islands for “serious” research. The night of the 4th, however, Rosemary Hill showed its stuff; as a participating observatory in Massachusetts was clouded out, leaving the Gainesville astronomers as key to gathering data at their respective longitude. Colon noted that the experience of actually guiding the telescope and monitoring the star during transit was “definitely unique” and different from the remote observing now prevalent at larger observatories… the data gathered will go far towards understanding this bizarre exoplanet and its 111 day orbit. And the moral of the story is…every telescope can contribute, even your home town observatory!