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(Last updated 11/20/02)
"Telescope Mirror To Get Shiny
Finish in Major Test Run," 11/26/02.
Partial Timeline for the Large
Larger versions of the images below can be found at
The Bell Jar
Recent stories pertaining to ongoing research
in Ohio State's Department of Astronomy.
Easy Method For Estimating Mass Of Distant Black Holes," 1/8/02.
Definitive Mass Measurement Of A Gravitational Microlens," 1/8/02.
Small Galactic Bulge Could Change Ideas Of Galaxy Formation,"
Black Holes Could Offer Clues To Subatomic Particles," 11/28/00.
Shows How Black Holes Change Shape Of Galaxies," 6/7/00.
Discover 'Feeding' Mechanism For Black Holes," 3/20/00.
Technique To Help Astronomers Deal With Wealth Of Data," 1/30/00.
Search Results Suggest Our Solar System May Be Uncommon," 1/12/00.
Heritage Project Showcases Work Of Ohio State Physicist," 12/3/99.
Find More Evidence Of Black Holes In Galactic Nuclei," 6/30/99.
Of Spiral Galaxies Shows Evidence Of Galactic Collisions," 4/27/99.
In Neighboring Galaxy Offer Clues To Mystery Of Dark Matter,"
Impact With Earth Unlikely In The Next 500,000 Years," 7/30/98.
Discover Unusual Star System With Possible Black Hole," 4/15/98.
Nino May Provide A NewHeadache for Astronomers," 1/27/98.
A Backgrounder . . .
The Large Binocular Telescope:
A Futuristic Approach To Observing the Past
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.