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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    A closer look at the UA Mirror Lab

    Ever wanted to take a tour of one of the most world renown astronomical mirror laboratories in the world? Now you can.

    The UA’s Steward Observatory is now conducting tours of the Mirror Lab facility on the east side of Arizona Stadium to the public, said Cathi Duncan, program coordinator.

    “”It’s a unique experience for students and visitors to get the behind-the-scenes look at the cutting-edge optical technology involved in making these giant telescope mirrors,”” she said.

    The Observatory Mirror Lab is one of the nation’s most prestigious laboratories casting, or building, mirror figures for some of the world’s largest astronomical telescopes, said Mirror Lab tour leader Vernon Dunlap.

    The laboratory offers up-close and personal views of these 8.4-meter giant lenses, which can take up to eight years for construction, casting, polishing and perfecting, Dunlap said.

    Roger Angel, along with a team of workers successfully transferred the entire facility from a vacated synagogue in northern Tucson in 1985, Dunlap said.

    Since their relocation, the Mirror Lab has successfully casted 14 mirrors which now sit on telescope towers at mountain peaks all over the nation.

    “”The (Large Binocular Telescope) is the first of the large-scale binocular telescopes that we put images online,”” said Bruce Hille, facility engineer. “”It’s unique in that it’s monolithic-honeycomb mirrors, which are exclusive to the (University of Arizona) mirror lab.””

    The Mirror Lab team has also developed a revolutionary new method to polish the

    honeycomb mirrors with a deeply curved, parabolic surface that results in much shorter focal lengths than conventional mirrors, said John Hill, laboratory director.

    “”Such fast mirrors not only improve telescope performance, but they can fit into a much shorter telescope body that requires a smaller, less expensive enclosure,”” Hill said.

    Another big hit within the scientific community was the casting of GMT, or Giant Magellan Telescope in 2005.

    GMT will be the largest telescope in the world and will excel in the field of deep exploration in space, Hille said.

    Upon completion, Hill said the GMT will sit on a peak high in the mountainous region of Chile.

    “”All of our mirrors will be lined up at high altitudes,”” Hille said. “”The reason is that it not only gives the greatest view of both hemispheres, but you can easily get above 10,000 feet,”” he said. “”This is better because there will be less atmosphere; the higher elevation you get the less atmosphere you eventually have to look through.””

    Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona is the only place in the world where giant spin-cast telescope mirrors are produced, Duncan said. “”We want to show (visitors) how this is done and how we change the way astronomers and telescopes explore the universe today and in the future.””

    The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab will also be featured in the July issue of National Geographic magazine, said Karen Kenagy, program manager.

    “”There’s no other place in the world like what we have here,”” said Mirror Lab facility manager Steve Miller. “”It’s unique only to the University of Arizona.””

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