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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Giant donation for giant telescope

    Astronomers at the UA have a new reason to celebrate the new year thanks to Richard F. Caris, who last month donated $20 million to the UA to aid in constructing the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be one of the largest telescopes in the world.
    Caris is the founder of Interface Inc., a company located in Scottsdale, Ariz., that produces load cell force measurement applications, which are typically used for construction sites. 

    According to Thomas Fleming, a UA astronomer and senior lecturer in the department of astronomy, the UA has used parts called actuators from Interface Inc., which are crucial in supporting the mirrors in the Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory. Over a decade ago, Caris inquired as to why the UA was purchasing his product, and the lab invited him in for a tour.

    Caris then became increasingly interested in astronomy and became a member of the Arizona Astronomy Board, and he donated money to projects in the department, including the most recent gift, Fleming said.

    Aside from making the mirrors for the telescope, the UA must contribute $60 million to secure its share of time with the telescope. Caris’s donation has provided a third of this, Fleming added.

    According to Dennis Zaritsky, a professor of astronomy and deputy director of the Steward Observatory, the UA is one of 11 institutions, including Harvard University, the University of Chicago and the Carnegie Institution for Science, which will be collaborating to build the telescope.

    “A telescope is a way of collecting light, and so that if you have a faint object you are trying to see, you collect more light from it and you can see it,” Zaritsky said. 

    The main difference between the GMT and other telescopes is its sheer size. 

    “Right now, the largest telescopes in the world are in a class of 8 to 10 meters,” Fleming said. “Now we’re trying to go to the next step with a telescope of an effective size of 22 meters.”

    Zaritsky said that some of the primary interests he will be pursuing with the help of the GMT are galaxy evolution, the stars within them and the dark matter content that they have. The collecting power and resolution of the new telescope will allow him to look at individual stars and galaxies, which wasn’t as easily done before.

    “The reason you want to make your telescopes bigger and bigger is because you can see fainter and fainter and fainter into the universe,” Fleming said. “We want to do this because we have a lot of astronomers who are studying the very early universe.”
    The $20 million donation is not the first gift Caris has given the UA, Fleming said. Caris was also responsible for most of the money used in reconstructing the Mount Lemmon Observatory.

    In honor of the gift, the mirror lab will now be known as the Richard Caris Mirror Lab, Fleming said.

    “The earlier you get your money in, the more telescope time you will get,” Fleming said. “Because [Caris] has decided to contribute such a generous amount of money so that we can participate in this large telescope project, we are renaming the mirror lab after him.”

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