Provost and faculty visit
model of the Large Binocular Telescope structure to be built
at Mount Graham, Ariz. More on the LBT is available online
By Fariss Samarrai
representatives of the University came away from a recent trip
to Arizona with a greater understanding of the complexities surrounding
its proposed partnership in a large binocular telescope consortium.
No decision has been made as to whether U.Va. will join the telescope
trip to the Mount Graham International Observatory and the surrounding
area April 6-9 included meetings with Apache tribal members, activists,
local elected officials and representatives of the University
of Arizona. U.Va. is the first university to visit with Apache
tribal members regarding possible membership in the telescope
U.Va. group believes that the visit was valuable, said Gene
D. Block, vice president and provost of U.Va. It provided
an opportunity to hear from a larger group of tribal members and
leaders than would have been possible in Charlottesville.
Other members of the visiting group were Ellen Contini-Morava,
chair of the anthropology department; Virginia Hymes, a retired
anthropology professor; Robert Rood, chair of the astronomy department;
and Steve Majewski, an astronomy professor.
visiting group held a press briefing April 18 to discuss their
findings during the trip.
U.Va. astronomy department has been negotiating with the Research
Corp. of Tucson, Ariz., and Steward Observatory of the University
of Arizona to become a partner in the LBT consortium and Steward
Grahams significance to the Apache
Graham (above), called Dzil Nchaa Sian by the Apache,
is a Western Apache traditional cultural property. It is
regarded by the Apache as the chief of all mountains
and has served to define the southern boundary of the traditional
homeland of the Western Apache people. Its standing as the
home of the Gaahn supernatural beings or spirits
make it a sacred site of crucial importance to Western
Apache people. Gaahn appear in different religious ceremonials
and serve as critical agents in ritual healing.
Graham is the home of several natural springs whose water
is collected by Apache ritual specialists for use in traditional
healing ceremonies. The mountain also contains several kinds
of stones and minerals, and plants required for religious
centuries, Mount Graham has been a place where Apache ritual
specialists go to pray and dream.
mountain also for centuries has been an object of prayer
for Apache people. Its sacred power can be called on in
prayers to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, as
well as to provide mental strength when dealing with personal
problems and difficulties.
Graham is the site of an unspecified number of Apache burials,
including those of men and women who lost their lives in
battles. It is regarded as a burial ground of enduring importance.
1992 testimony of Keith Basso, Ph.D., an anthropologist
to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
project, however, has encountered various objections since its
inception. Opposition began with environmental groups concerned
about the habitat of a subspecies of red squirrel said to be in
the top region of the mountain. The U.S. Forest Service set aside
a restricted area to protect the squirrels, but the nearby San
Carlos Apaches, who consider the site one of four sacred mountains
important to their rituals and religious beliefs, also voiced
opposition to the observatory project.
group called the Apache Survival Coalition was formed and has
mounted opposition on campuses around the country and has sent
representatives to Europe to meet with heads of groups involved
in the project.
U.Va. contingents itinerary in Arizona, which was planned
by the visiting faculty, included a meeting with the Apache coalition
as well as discussions with tribal officials and members of the
San Carlos and White Mountain reservations.
Some of the meetings were pre-arranged with groups or individuals,
Block said. Other conversations were ad hoc at a cultural
event a Sunrise Ceremony or other gatherings.
balance of our discussions with Apache tribal members were with
groups and individuals that have expressed strong concerns about
the presence of the observatory on Mount Graham.
members of the visiting group agreed that if the University were
to become a member of the telescope coalition, accommodations
would need to be made with the Apache people, possibly involving
a dialogue with the Apache people and perhaps some service program
or educational outreach activities for the community. Contini-Morava
and Hymes both said they would not support U.Va. joining the telescope
partnership unless the University of Arizona, the lead member,
acknowledges Apache cultural ties to Mount Graham and allows Apache
input regarding development of the site. Rood and Majewski said
that they are open to reaching out to the Apache people as part
of any U.Va. involvement with the telescope.
business is education, and we should look at what we can do, in
the educational realm, to play a role with the other consortium
universities to reach out in some meaningful way to the Apache
communities. Block said.
emphasized that a decision as to whether U.Va. will join the telescope
partnership is weeks away. There is a great deal of complexity
to this issue, he said. We need to take some time
to gather the facts, to listen and to understand the many viewpoints
before we decide what the appropriate decision is. Whatever the
decision, there always will be people who are not satisfied.
in the 1980s, the Mount Graham observatory is the site of two
existing telescopes with a third the Large Binocular Telescope
nearing completion. The binocular telescope will be the
largest optical telescope in the world, and its adaptive optics
are designed to allow it to see fine detail otherwise visible
only from space.
in the Coronado National Forest about 12 miles southwest of Safford,
Ariz., the site for the observatory was selected from a survey
of 280 potential mountain sites on the basis of astronomical considerations
such as clear skies, low light pollution, low atmospheric water
vapor and ease of access.
the time it was established, Mount Graham was perhaps the best
undeveloped observatory site in the continental United States,
site already had an Arizona state highway serving other developments
on the mountain. A minimal amount of forest was cleared to make
room for the observatory buildings.
Heinrich Hertz Telescope and the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope
have been operating for several years on the mountain. The building
for the Large Binocular Telescope is finished except for some
interior work. The various parts of the telescope are mostly completed,
and some are in transit to Mount Graham.
their Arizona trip, the U.Va. group also met with the mayor of
nearby Safford, toured the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the
University of Arizona and visited with officials and astronomers
at the telescope site on Mount Graham.
U.Va.s participation in the consortium is possible through
a $10 million gift from Frank and Wynnette Levinson of Palo Alto,
Calif. Levinson studied astronomy at U.Va. and earmarked that
money for the astronomy department, which set a priority on joining
a large optical telescope project.
Large Binocular Telescope will be the most powerful telescope
in the world. Astronomers say its two giant mirrors
each 27 feet across and positioned side-by-side on a single
mount spanning 74 feet will give a deeper and clearer
view of the cosmos than has ever been achieved. By combining
light beams from the two mirrors, the telescope can collect
light at the same rate as a single mirror 38 feet across.
Currently the worlds largest single-mirror telescope
is 33 feet across. The LBT is expected to show detail on
as fine a scale as a single telescope 74 feet across. It
will overcome many of the technological and physical barriers
that have limited ground-based astronomy. The LBT should
make pictures as clear as those made by the Hubble Space
will conduct studies on dark matter, quasars and black holes,
how stars form and the origins and evolution of the universe.
The international partnership of universities and research
institutes in the LBT Research Consortium include the University
of Arizona, which leads the consortium, Ohio State University,
the University of Notre Dame, and the Research Corp. and
partners in Italy and Germany. The Research Corp. is a not-for-profit
foundation that supports research in science and science
education. In addition to U.Va., the University of Minnesota
is considering joining the consortium.