Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 3, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

LBT Telescope


  • The Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona is the world�s largest telescope. Arizona universities own 25 percent of the telescope. The device is expected to provide images 10 times sharper than the Hubble Telescope. Richard Green of the University of Arizona will tell us more about it.
Guests:
  • Richard Green - Director,L.B.T.
Category: Science

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's the world's most powerful telescope and located on Mount Graham in southern Arizona. The large binocular telescope has produced some of its first images, and is expected to allow astronomers to peer deep into space and time like no other telescope before. I'll talk to the director of the L.B.T. But first, here's more on the telescope.

Mike Sauceda:
At the town of Mount Graham in southern Arizona the 8.4 meter mirror has been joined by its giant twin. The first binocular look into the deep cosmic past. Working side by side, the L.B.T. Mirrors have captured their first ever images of a spiral galaxy lying 102 million light years from our milky way. First binocular light inaugurates the unparalleled capabilities of the large binocular telescope.

Richard Green:
The telescope will be used in two ways. Our first step is to use it as two telescopes working in parallel, analyzing the same field of view on the sky. The other way, combine the two beams into one coherent picture, achieving the resolution as though we had an almost 70-foot telescope. And that will give us pictures 10 times sharper than Hubble.

Mike Sauceda:
Equal to its massive collecting power is an innovative design that that supports changing suites of optical instruments. First up a pair of wide field panoramic cameras used to capture these first light images. The telescope works twice as fast by simultaneously recording the same image in separate spectra. These technologies are the first of many to come, giving astronomers unlimited option for discovery.

Richard Green:
We think this telescope is going to discover really interesting systems of planets around other stars, map the dynamics of the inner regions of gallon competition around mass sick black holes, map the outer solar system and understand how our solar system was formed, make a big dent in understanding the assembly of galaxies in both the early phase of the universe and in the middle age of the universe when the galaxies like our milky way came together

Mike Sauceda:
The L.B.T was created by an international consortium which includes the University of Arizona and other Arizona universities, the Instituto Nazionale de Astofiscia, LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft, Ohio State University and the research corporation.

Mike Sauceda:
L.B.T.'s mirrors are light adapting quickly to changing temperatures. Computers align telescope component during complex rotations and adaptive optics produce distortion-free images. The large binocular telescope will take astronomers where no telescope has gone before.

Richard Green:
I can't predict what the great discovery of this telescope is going to be. We'll be rue time studying earth-like planets with oxygen atmospheres, you know, on a 10 to 20-year time scale. Who knows? The best discoveries are the surprises. And that's the real excitement of the world's best telescope.

Ted Simons:
And here now to tell us more about the telescope is Richard Green, director of the l.b.t. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Richard Green:
I'm glad to be here.

Ted Simons:
We learned a lot in that piece but I want to kind of ask similar questions and then maybe go a little bit further. The basics again, what makes this particular telescope so special?

Richard Green:
It has two of the world's largest telescope mirrors. Each one of them has light-gathering power ten times greater than Hubble. But because they're mounted together on a common mount and steered together and point to the same place in the sky, that makes them unique. They can make a huge field of view in very sharp focus.

Ted Simons:
And you're talking 10 times -- eventually 10 times as sharp as Hubble?

Richard Green:
Yes.

Ted Simons:
Wow! Does that make Hubble obsolete? Is this the new golden age for mountaintop telescopes?

Richard Green:
Certainly it will be a new era for these giant telescopes. This is the pathfinder for the next generation of giant telescopes. A telescope in orbit does unique things. It captures radiation blocks by the atmosphere. So they compliment each other.

Ted Simons:
What kinds of images are you seeing now and plan to see in the next few years and what do you plan to learn from those images?

Richard Green:
We're celebrating the very scientific beginning of this as. So right now we're taking pairs of panoramas of wide field views of the sky, and that ranges -- the science that people are doing right now ranges from mapping the solar system out near Pluto all the way to discovering the most distant quasars that formed just after time began.

Ted Simons:
And it mentioned in coming years because it sounds like this is a work in progress. What kind of tinkering, changes still need to be done?

Richard Green:
We have lots of steps to go. It was a major achievement to get the two mirrors to point to the same place and track together. But now we have to tune that up to be 100 times more precise. When we do that we can then lock up the light waves that come from each side, and that's going to give us the 10 times sharper picture.

Ted Simons:
Wow! That sounds incredible! Real quickly the history of this telescope.

Richard Green:
It was conceived back in the early 19 80s as one of the ultimate achievements of -- the pyrex mirrors that were being developed at university of Arizona in Tucson. And as time went along this concept became more sophisticated. They realized they'd have to compensate for the blur of the earth's atmosphere which we do with a large mirror that's 36 inches in diameter at about the thickness of a hair. It's like a tissue. And we change its shape 1,000 times a second to cancel the atmospheric blur. So all of these things developed with time. As you know, there was a period of controversy about mount graham as a site. That was resolved in favor of the observatory. And in 1998, construction began in ernest. And we're 10-years later enjoying the scientific fruits of all that effort.

Ted Simons:
This is an international collaboration is it not?

Richard Green:
Truly is. Half the interest, half the development funding of the telescope and half the observing time goes to europe. The italian national astronomy effort has a quarter share and consortium of german institutes that represent german national astronomy also have a quarter share.

Ted Simons:
Interesting. As far as Arizona is concerned, how does this benefit Arizona in general and Arizona science in particular? Considering our history now with astronomy, it's pretty strong.

Richard Green:
It's very powerful. So having the world's most powerful telescope is a real draw for the faculty who are here at Arizona state, university of Arizona, N.A.U., and is a real draw to attract the best and the brightest coming in. The other thing I'll note is that the Arizona art, science and technology academy just issued a report that showed that the economic impact of astronomy and space science in Arizona each year is $253 million in the state. So we're a major industry in the state of Arizona on top of everything else.

Ted Simons:
And are those numbers increasing?

Richard Green:
They are. There's about a $1.2 billion capital investment in astronomy and space science around, and another 600 million in plan.

Ted Simons:
Wow! Well, it sounds like a terrific job, a terrific instrument. And you seem pretty happy about it. You seem very excited.

Richard Green:
We're just thrilled. The data are starting to come in. I'm actually part of a team searching for the highest ratio quasars and we'll have a camera before long we can pursue.

Ted Simons:
Congratulations. It sounds very special and very exciting.

Richard Green:
Thanks.

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