April 1, 2020

21.01.10-Joint U.S.-Mexico Telescope to Survey the Infrared Sky.

Construction has begun on a telescope that will scan a little understood part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Last summer, optical engineers at the University of Arizona in Tucson began the casting process for the 6.5 meter mirror that will ultimately be part of the San Pedro Martir Telescope in the Mexican observatory complex of the same name. Located in Baja, California, the site will offer pristine views of the northern and much of the southern skies.  The mirror is being figured for a very fast, f/1.4 focal ratio for a very special purpose; to complete the most comprehensive survey of the infrared sky. When completed in 2017, the San Pedro Martir Telescope will survey the infrared sky with unprecedented accuracy, going 100 to 500 times fainter than the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) completed in 2004. This is part of the Synoptic All-Sky Infrared Imaging Survey (SASIR) and will open up a new realm of infrared astronomy. Among the goodies expected to be uncovered are distant quasars, super massive black holes, and perhaps nearby faint red dwarf stars in our own solar neighborhood. For example, the jury is still out on whether or not our own Sun might have a faint, small companion on a long term orbit… now that discovery would be  would be some serious news!

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!