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(Last updated 11/20/02)

Related materials:

"Telescope Mirror To Get Shiny Finish in Major Test Run," 11/26/02.

Partial Timeline for the Large Binocular Telescope

Larger versions of the images below can be found at this site.

The Bell Jar
LBT Primary Mirror
Telescope Structure
LBT Enclosure

Recent stories pertaining to ongoing research in Ohio State's Department of Astronomy.

"An Easy Method For Estimating Mass Of Distant Black Holes," 1/8/02.

"First Definitive Mass Measurement Of A Gravitational Microlens," 1/8/02.

"Very Small Galactic Bulge Could Change Ideas Of Galaxy Formation," 6/6/01.

"Supernovas, Black Holes Could Offer Clues To Subatomic Particles," 11/28/00.

"Study Shows How Black Holes Change Shape Of Galaxies," 6/7/00.

"Astronomers Discover 'Feeding' Mechanism For Black Holes," 3/20/00.

"New Technique To Help Astronomers Deal With Wealth Of Data," 1/30/00.

"Planet Search Results Suggest Our Solar System May Be Uncommon," 1/12/00.

"Hubble Heritage Project Showcases Work Of Ohio State Physicist," 12/3/99.

"Astronomers Find More Evidence Of Black Holes In Galactic Nuclei," 6/30/99.

"Catalog Of Spiral Galaxies Shows Evidence Of Galactic Collisions," 4/27/99.

"Stars In Neighboring Galaxy Offer Clues To Mystery Of Dark Matter," 1/4/99.

"Cometary Impact With Earth Unlikely In The Next 500,000 Years," 7/30/98.

"Astronomers Discover Unusual Star System With Possible Black Hole," 4/15/98.

"El Nino May Provide A NewHeadache for Astronomers," 1/27/98.



A Backgrounder . . .

The Large Binocular Telescope:
A Futuristic Approach To Observing the Past

Program Overview

The Department of Astronomy at The Ohio State University features 20 outstanding faculty, a state-of-the-art Imaging Sciences Laboratory (ISL), and 11 researchers who provide instrumentation for telescopes around the world. The department has been increasingly recognized for its contributions to international astronomical research and continues its quest to gain recognition as one of the top 10 astronomy departments in the country. Towards that goal they joined the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) project, currently under construction at the Mt. Graham International Observatory near Safford, AZ, in 1997. When completed, the LBT will be the worlds largest telescope on a single mount.

Through financial and in-kind contributions, Ohio State holds a one-eighth share of the cost of the LBT project. Other partners include the University of Arizona, with participation form Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University; a group of Italian observatories led by the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory in Florence; and a group of German institutes and observatories led by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg -- each of which hold a one-fourth share of the project. The Research Corporation, a private foundation in Tucson, Arizona, holds the remaining one-eighth share, and has given portions of its observing time to Ohio State, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, and the University of Minnesota.

With its grant from the Research Corporation, Ohio State will actually enjoy a total of one-sixth of the available observing time on the telescope.


Ohio States Role in the LBT Project

Access to a large telescope is vital to the research done in any competitive astronomy program. Cutting-edge research in developing fields such as stellar and galactic evolution, Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), cosmology, gravitational lensing, and quasars have made Ohio States Department of Astronomy an internationally recognized center for astronomical research.

As part of its effort to maintain the departments momentum towards top-10 status, Ohio State approved funding, both monetary and in-kind, to allow the department to become a partner in the LBT consortium in 1997. The LBT project is one of the most superior planned or existing telescope projects in the world and participation will allow the department to undertake revolutionary research projects, thereby continuing to attract outstanding faculty and graduate students.

Ohio States role in the LBT project is three-fold: to provide necessary monetary contributions, to build instrumentation for the telescope in the form of the Multi-Object Double Spectrograph (MODS), and to construct and test the aluminization system that will place the reflective coating on the mirror glass.

Various instruments can be attached to and interchanged on modern telescopes such as the LBT. As part of its role in the LBT project, the Department of Astronomy is building such an instrument, the Multi-Object Double Spectrograph (MODS). Building the MODS is an attractive endeavor because it fits the departments continuing mission of doing science. The Imaging Sciences Laboratory (ISL) team is designing and building MODS at the facility housed in McPherson Laboratory on the Ohio State campus, which allows the ISL scientists and the department faculty to interact closely throughout the process. This close interaction has produced a focused effort on achieving the maximum scientific return, yielding an efficient and cost-effective design for MODS.

Ohio State is contributing to the actual construction of the telescope by designing and testing the aluminization process that will be used to put the reflective coating on the glass surface of the mirrors. Bruce Atwood, research scientist at Ohio State and leader on the aluminization project, has been working on vacuum and aluminization systems since his undergraduate career. In addition to Atwoods expertise, the ISL teams ability to participate in the process made the Ohio State Department of Astronomy the ideal LBT partner to design and test the aluminization system for the LBT.

Since joining the LBT project in 1997, Ohio State has played an active role in the design, development, and construction of the telescope and its many intricate parts. Through its funding and in-kind contributions, instrumentation design, and the support of its outstanding ISL team, Ohio State is guaranteed to play a lasting role in making the LBT a world-class telescope capable of taking observations that will aid in solving some of the most intriguing questions facing astronomers.

The Large Binocular Telescope

With 24 times the light gathering power of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) is the largest telescope construction project in which the Ohio State University Department of Astronomy has participated. The LBT will be composed of two 8.4-meter (27.5 feet) diameter mirrors which will give it the resolving power (image sharpness) of an 11.8 meter telescope.

Large ground-based telescopes, like the LBT, are the most cost-effective, accurate instruments currently being developed to probe more deeply into space. The development of Adaptive Optics to correct for the atmospheric blurring of images allows for the construction of large telescopes that can be used to observe fainter, more distant objects than the Hubble Space Telescope at a fraction of the cost. The LBT will have a larger collection area and a better capability for high resolution imaging of faint objects than any other existing telescope. Yet the LBT is the most cost-effective telescope in its class in terms of cost per square meter of collecting area.

The twin 8.4-meter mirrors, the largest single mirrors ever made, were created at the Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory using a revolutionary new technique in mirror casting. In order to obtain the mirrors parabolic curve, 20 tons of glass were heated to a temperature of 2100 degrees Fahrenheit and rotated in a circular furnace like a giant carousel. One of Ohio States contributions to the LBT project is the aluminization system that will be used to put a thin reflective coating on the curved surface of the glass. This aluminization process is currently being tested on a dummy mirror cell by the ISL team in a hanger at the Rickenbacker airport located south of Columbus. It will be transported to Mount Graham at the beginning of 2004. The enclosure for the telescope has been completed and the telescope framework, which was built in Italy, was shipped to Mount Graham in October 2002.

Answering Astronomical Questions

The LBTs considerable resolving power will allow it to play a major role in clarifying several questions facing modern astronomers. Among these questions is how the material content of the universe evolved from the postulated uniform distribution of the hot big bang to the current distribution of galaxies, stars, and planets of composition capable of supporting life. The LBT can also be used to detect and study faint low mass stars and brown dwarfs within young star forming regions, which may fill the missing link between stars and planets. Closer examination of the disks of gas and dust surrounding young stars about the size of our sun, as well as the study of stars that may harbor planetary systems, will provide clues to the process by which our own solar system formed and possible locations of Earth-like planets around fifty of the nearest stars. The LBT, with nulling interferometry, may even be able to detect extra-solar planets directly.

Financial Details

Ohio State originally joined the LBT project in the early 1980s but had to withdraw in 1991 due to budgetary constraints. At the time of its withdrawal, Ohio State had already invested $2.6 million into the project. When Ohio State rejoined the project in 1997, the LBT consortium agreed to apply the previous investment towards Ohio States one-eighth share of the cost of the project.

In addition to the $2.6 million, counted as $3.2 million because of inflation, already invested, Ohio State agreed to invest an additional $3.2 million. This would be the only direct monetary contribution Ohio State would have to make towards its share of the project.

To complete its one-eighth investment, Ohio State agreed to build $3.2 million worth of instrumentation and other necessary parts for the telescope. This in-kind contribution is being made in the form of the Multi-Object Double Spectrograph and the aluminization system.

Although its investments only total a one-eighth share of the LBT cost, Ohio State will receive one-sixth of the observing time on the telescope. The Research Corporation, a private foundation that invests in scientific research, holds a one-eighth share of the project and agreed to match Ohio States $3.2 million direct contribution by giving Ohio State one-fourth of the observation time owned by the Corporation. The University of Virginia, The University of Notre Dame and The University of Minnesota have arranged to buy the Research Corporations remaining observation time.

The Multi-Object Double Spectrograph

Astronomers conducting astronomical research rarely look through the eyepiece of the telescope that they are using. Instead they use sensitive instruments that attach to the telescope, analyze the light from the objects being observed, and output the data to a computer. This set up allows different instruments to be interchanged on one telescope, depending on the data collection needs of the astronomer.

The Ohio State University Department of Astronomy will be providing such an instrument, a Multi-Object Double Spectrograph (MODS), as one of its largest contributions to the LBT project. With funding from a $1 million, 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Imaging Sciences Laboratory (ISL) will have the necessary resources to build the instrument in such a way that it should be fully operational by the completion of the telescope. However, as scientific advances are made and as more funding becomes available, additional modifications to the instrument will still be possible.

Optical Spectrographs, like MODS, are central to a wide range of research performed using observations made on large telescopes. Optical spectroscopy allows astronomers to analyze the light from distant objects at both ultraviolet and optical wavelengths, which aids in the determination of the redshift (distance), physical condition, and chemical composition of the objects being observed. When combined with observations made at other wavelengths of light or from space observatories, optical spectroscopy can lead to the identification and understanding of newly discovered classes of objects, like quasars. Observations of the faintest and most distant objects known in the universe will also be possible using the LBT and MODS.

Research Programs using MODS

MODS is being designed for a wide range of scientific projects, thereby imposing several constraints on its design. In order to accommodate the requirements of these projects the ISL team will build a two-channel version of the instrument, which will allow the incoming light to be split into two separate beams, one of blue light and the other red. From there, the individual beams of light will pass into separate optical channels where the light can be further analyzed. Ohio State currently has the funding for the first spectrograph and is actively seeking funding for the second.

The Ohio State Department of Astronomy anticipates using the MODS on the LBT to carry out observations that will provide data critical to the search for answers to several questions at the forefront of astronomy. The research program proposed for use with the MODS will focus on three main areas:

  • The history of star formation in the universe: Astronomers hope to secure more accurate statistics on star formation rates by using the MODS to determine the chemical composition and age of stellar populations in star forming galaxies, as well as by comparing alternative measurements of the star formation rates.
  • The formation and evolution of galaxies: Spectroscopic data will be used to determine several of the physical properties of high redshift galaxies, which can then be compared with data from closer galaxies in an effort to derive the mechanisms that drive galaxy evolution. Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) will also be observed in order to evaluate the relationship between AGNs and star formation.
  • The growth of large scale structure: The MODS will allow astronomers to explore the structure of the Universe in more detail than previously possible, providing firmer clues to the process of galaxy formation, and more stringent tests of theoretical models for the origin of structure.

These research programs combine astronomical instrumentation, observational astronomy, and theoretical astrophysics/cosmology, the three main aspects of the departments research efforts. Research done using the LBT with MODS will play a major role in the Ohio State Department of Astronomys goal of reaching Top 10 status in the United States.

Challenges Faced by the LBT Project

The construction of a state-of-the-art telescope, such as the LBT, is a complex process that requires a strong commitment from all parties. When Ohio State reinvigorated the Department of Astronomy through hiring a new chair and faculty members, they also sought entry into a major telescope. By implementing a more conservative budget plan, Ohio State was able to rejoin the LBT project in 1997. Since then, Ohio States commitment to the project has not wavered. The construction of the telescope is now nearing completion and will see first light in 2004.

As with any large construction project, the LBT has faced challenges. Environmental groups in Arizona raised concerns about the red squirrel population, a species of squirrel unique to the Mount Graham environment. In order to address these concerns, Ohio State and other LBT members set up advisory committees and found that the construction of the telescope would have little effect on the red squirrel population. In fact, it was shown in 1996 that the population of the Mount Graham red squirrel had nearly doubled since 1989, when construction on the telescope began. The LBT consortium continues to use environmentally sound measures in the construction of the telescope and is open to communication with environmental groups on the best ways to ensure the red squirrels safety.

The LBT project has also been met with concerns from members of the San Carlos Apaches and the White Mountain Tribe of Arizona, some of whom consider the telescope site, high atop Mount Graham, to be one of four sacred mountains important to their rituals and religious beliefs. Since its re-entry into the LBT project, Ohio State has been involved in ensuring that the telescope intrudes as little as possible on the cultural needs of the Native American groups by working with the U.S. Forest Service to improve access to Mount Graham by the Apache people. The construction and eventual maintenance of the LBT has also opened up several educational and employment opportunities for Native Americans both at the observatory and at member universities, and will continue to do so.

Ohio States participation in the LBT has offered opportunities to develop new budget plans and learn more about the Mount Graham area. Ohio State holds a large share of the observing time through a minimized cost. The on-going biological survey and increased communication with concerned Native American groups allows Ohio State to continue to build the telescope in an environmentally and ethically sound manner.