Monday, October 1, 2012

Large Binocular Telescope

Just now catching up with some of the extras I captured during the visit of our Russian amateur astronomers.  We had an absolutely spectacular tour of the Mount Graham Observatory, given to us by Jackie and her husband Mark.  They actually work for Eastern Arizona College, who organize the tours of the site through the Discovery Park Campus - a really cool little museum facility, given the size of Safford where it is located. 

The trip to the top of Mount Graham is not for the faint of heart!  Project Scientist John Hill once told me there are over 500 bends or turns on the required 1 hour trip up the mountain and I've no reason to argue with that number.  And because of the primitive nature of the road, there isn't a safety rail along the entire length!  Many of the switchback turns are quite steep, and coming down a few years back by myself one night required a couple 3-point turns - really disconcerting in the dark!

But the University of Arizona's installation there is quite amazing!  We only toured the optical telescopes that day (21 September), the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT), and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT).  Both are products of the UA Mirror Laboratory's ultra-fast primaries - the VATT primary is F/1 (focal length is the same as the 1.8 meter diameter) and the LBT is F/1.14, about the same, though with a diameter of 8.4 meters, the scale of that beast is huge!  Particularly with 2 of those mirrors mounted side by side, it seems the telescope structure is arena-sized! 

Our tour of LBT ended at the telescope enclosure, and fortunately the astronomers finished their work on the instrument and we were able to witness the dome opening.  Because there are no mirror covers, the telescope must move to horizon-pointing when opening the dome, in case snow, ice or precipitation falls in.  After it is open, the telescope then moved back to zenith.  With the couple minutes of advance notice I had, I set up my camera on a tripod with the intervalometer, taking a pic every 3 seconds as the scope moved and dome opened.  Tonight I finally uploaded it to YouTube.  Just click on the viewing window to play - you can change the viewing size and resolution to what you like depending on your system capability.

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