Large Binocular Telescope Achieves First Binocular Light
Milestone Means World’s Most Powerful Telescope
Now Viewing with Both Eyes Wide Open
(Tucson, Arizona) --- After more than a decade of preparation, the world’s most powerful telescope is now looking skyward with both of its massive eyes wide open. The Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) partners in the U.S.A., Italy and Germany are pleased to announce that the LBT has successfully achieved first binocular light. With this latest milestone, the LBT will provide new and more powerful views of deep space, including potentially answering fundamental questions about the origins of the universe and mysterious worlds in other planetary systems.
Located on Mount Graham in southeastern Arizona, the $120 million LBT is the first of a new generation of extraordinarily large optical telescopes and it is breaking boundaries in astronomy and related fields. It uses two massive 8.4-meter (27.6 foot) diameter primary mirrors mounted side-by-side to produce the light gathering power equivalent to an 11.8-meter (39 foot) circular aperture. The mirrors which are lighter in weight than conventional solid-glass mirrors, due to their unique “honeycomb” structure, are now working in tandem and will be capable of operating as a single instrument. Ultimately, the interferometric combination of the light paths of the two primary mirrors will provide a resolution of a 22.8-meter (75 foot) telescope. With its capability, the LBT is the largest single telescope in the world.
Peter A. Strittmatter, president of the LBT Corp., said, “This has been years in the making and to now have a fully functioning binocular telescope is not only a time for celebration here at LBT, but also for the entire astronomy community. The images that this telescope will produce will be like none seen before; the power and clarity of this machine is in a class of its own. We will now have the ability to peer into history, seeing the birth stars, galaxies and possibly even the origins the universe.”
The one-of-a-kind structure that houses the 600 ton LBT is an architectural wonder itself and construction began on Mount Graham in 1996. The telescope structure was built in Italy while the University of Arizona designed, cast, and polished the twin mirrors. The telescope was transported to Mt. Graham in 2002, and the first mirror arrived in 2003. This primary mirror was mounted and aligned in the telescope in 2004, with the second primary following in 2005. Single-eye first light was achieved in October, 2005 with the panoramic (36 Megapixel) CCD camera produced by a team led by the Rome Observatory. The delivery of their second panoramic camera in November, 2007, allowed the opening of the second eye and completion of the engineering work required to achieve first binocular light.
John P. Schaefer, chairman of the LBT Corp. Board of Directors and member of the Research Corporation Board of Directors said, “The amount of cooperation, on an international level, is remarkable. The LBT project was once just an idea and now it is the world’s most advanced telescope, made possible by international collaboration of over 15 institutions. The completion of this one-of-a-kind instrument reflects what can happen when people come together and work towards a common goal.”
Hans-Walter Rix, member of the LBT Board, added, “After such a large amount of work performed by all the partners involved, First Binocular Light is like the real birth of the LBT. It is an important milestone on the road to achieve the full LBT operation since all the currently tested and built instruments will show their outstanding capabilities in binocular mode.”
The First Binocular Light images offer a glimpse into the LBT’s immeasurable potential. Using both LBT mirrors, these images show three false-color renditions of the spiral galaxy, NGC 2770. The galaxy lies 102 million light years from our Milky Way, and has a flat disk of stars and glowing gas, tipped slightly toward our line of sight. The first image combines ultraviolet and green light, and emphasizes the clumpy regions of newly formed hot stars in the spiral arms. The second image combines two deep red colors to highlight the smoother distribution of older, cooler stars. The third image displays ultraviolet, green, and deep red light in the same composite, showing the detailed structure of hot, moderate, and cool stars in the galaxy. The cameras and these images were produced by the Large Binocular Camera team, led by Emanuele Giallongo at the Rome Astrophysical Observatory.
The LBT is a collaborative effort that includes numerous astronomy and academic institutions in the U.S.A., Italy and Germany. In addition to financial commitments, each partner’s unique expertise ensures this will be the most advanced telescope in the world. The partners, their ownership interest, and examples of their contributions to the LBT include:
University of Arizona (25 percent). The innovative telescope mirrors being used for the LBT were cast and polished at the University's Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory. The Mirror Lab is a pioneer in developing giant, lightweight mirrors of unparalleled power for the new generation of optical and infrared telescopes. The twin mirrors were polished to an accuracy of 30 nanometers, or 3,000 times thinner than a human hair. Steward Observatory and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are building the “LBT Interferometer,” an instrument that provides unprecedented imaging capability at infrared wavelengths. The University served as the lead for construction of the one-of-a-kind enclosure that houses the telescope. Scientists at Arizona State and Northern Arizona Universities will also share in the Arizona viewing time on the LBT.
Instituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) (25 percent). The INAF includes all the Italian Observatories and Astronomical Research Institutes. A consortium of Italian astronomical observatories, led initially by the Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory in Florence, and now by the INAF, has been involved in the project since its inception. The Italian partners were responsible for the detailed design and fabrication of the major structural elements of the telescope, including the cells that hold the telescope's twin primary mirrors. The structural parts were fabricated, pre-assembled and tested at the Ansaldo-Camozzi steel works in Milan, one of Italy's long-established steel fabrication companies. The telescope was then disassembled, shipped by freighter to the U.S.A. and transported overland to Mount Graham in 2002. The Italian partners also played a key role (along with Arizona) in developing and building the unique adaptive secondary mirror systems. They are also providing the Large Binocular Cameras, the first facility instruments for the LBT and are involved in LINC-NIRVANA.
LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft (LBTB) (25 percent). The LBTB is a consortium of five German institutes and observatories led by the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg (MPIA). Besides MPIA, the Max-Planck-Institutes for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching (MPE) and for Radio Astronomy in Bonn (MPIfR), as well as the Astrophysical Institute of Potsdam (AIP) and the Center for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (Landessternwarte Heidelberg, LSW) are members. The LBTB is developing the LUCIFER instruments for near infrared imaging and spectroscopy. LUCIFER 1 and 2 will operate in both “seeing” and diffraction-limited modes, the latter fully exploiting the capabilities of the adaptive secondary mirrors.
The LBTB, in conjunction with the INAF is developing the LINC-NIRVANA instrument which will provide interferometric imaging capability at near infrared wavelengths. With LINC-NIRVANA, the LBT will be able to observe ten times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope. The PEPSI instrument, a high-resolution Echelle spectrograph, is also being developed by the LBTB member AIP and will allow astronomers to understand the structure and dynamics of the surface magnetic fields of solar-type stars. AIP will also deliver four Acquisition, Guiding, and Wavefront sensing units for the telescope. The LBTB has also made contributions to numerous aspects of the telescope including mirror supports and software.
The Ohio State University (OSU) (12.5 percent). OSU has developed and refined the technology to deposit a whisper-thin coating of aluminum on the glass surface of the primary mirrors. The unique bell jar and vacuum system allows aluminization to take place while the mirrors are mounted in the telescope. OSU also has lead responsibility for the design and fabrication of the LBT’s visible and ultraviolet light spectroscopy instrument, the Multi-Object Double Spectrograph (MODS), a low-to-medium resolution spectrograph and imager. Two full MODS spectrographs will be built with support from the Ohio Board of Regents, National Science Foundation and the University of Arizona.
Research Corporation (12.5 percent). The Research Corporation joined the project in 1992 and their participation has ensured that adequate funding was available to maintain project momentum at a critical stage in the development of the LBT. It has also facilitated the participation of OSU, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia in the project.
The Research Corporation was established in 1912 to promote the advancement of science in the United States. The non-profit foundation has focused on supporting astronomy, chemistry and physics and has played key roles in several astronomical projects including Grote Reber's pioneering work in radio astronomy.
Click on an image for a larger version
Using both LBT mirrors, these First Binocular Light images show three false-color renditions of the spiral galaxy, NGC 2770. The galaxy lies 102 million light years from our Milky Way (a relatively close neighbor), and has a flat disk of stars and glowing gas, tipped slightly toward our line of sight. The first image combines ultraviolet and green light, and emphasizes the clumpy regions of newly formed hot stars in the spiral arms. The second image combines two deep red colors to highlight the smoother distribution of older, cooler stars. The third image displays ultraviolet, green, and deep red light in the same composite, showing the detailed structure of hot, moderate, and cool stars in the galaxy.
The cameras and these images were produced by the LBC team, led by Emanuele Giallongo at the INAF- Rome Observatory. Images were obtained by Vincenzo Testa (Rome Observatory) on the nights of 11 and 12 January, 2008. The images were processed at the LBC Survey Center, located at INAF – Rome Observatory.
Technical details are as follows:
The first image is a composite of U and V filter images in the Bessel system. The U consisted of 6 exposures of 40 seconds each with image quality (Full Width Half Maximum) ranging from 1.2” to 1.5”. The V consisted of 6 exposures of 20 seconds each with FWHM ranging from 1.0” to 1.4”.
The second image is a composite of I and y (0.9 micron) filter images. The I consisted of 13 exposures of 20 seconds each with FWHM ranging from 1.0” to 1.7”. The y image consisted of 12 exposures of 30 seconds each, with FWHM ranging from 1.0” to 1.5”.
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Supporting Images: Photos by David Steele