Officials To Discuss Large Binocular Telescope Project
April 17, 2002-- Five representatives
of the University of Virginia came away from a trip to Arizona last
week with a greater understanding of the complexities surrounding
its proposed partnership in a large binocular telescope consortium.
trip to the Mount Graham International Observatory and surrounding
area April 6-9 included meetings with environmentalists, activists,
local elected officials, representatives of the University of Arizona
and Apache tribal members.
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. We were
told by some groups that we were the first potential telescope consortium
partner to visit with tribal members and listen to their concerns."
members of the visiting group were Ellen Contini-Morava, chair of
the aAnthropology department; Virginia Hymes, a retired anthropology
professor; Robert Rood, chair of the astronomy department; and Steve
Majewski, an astronomy professor.
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.
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
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. When the U.S. Forest Service set aside a restricted
area to protect the squirrels, opposition shifted to concerns of
the nearby San Carlos Apaches, who consider the site one of four
sacred mountains important to their rituals and religious beliefs.
called the Apache Survival Coalition was formed and has mounted
opposition on campuses around the country and sent representatives
to Europe to meet with heads of groups involved in the project.
U.Va. contingents itinerary, which was planned by the visiting
faculty, included a meeting with the Apache coalition.
representatives also met 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 -- for
example, a Sunrise Ceremony -- or other gatherings. The 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."
addition, the U.Va. group 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.
in the Coronado National Forest about 12 miles southwest of Safford,
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," Block said.
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. 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.
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
officials are in the process of evaluating the information gleaned
from the trip. "Once all the facets of this very complex issue
have been weighed, which I expect will take several weeks, the University
will arrive at a decision regarding its participation in the consortium,"
LARGE BINOCULAR TELESCOPE
Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) 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 world's 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 Telescope, while collecting light more than 30
times more rapidly. Astronomers will explore deeper into space and
with greater clarity than ever before.
one mode of operation, the light from the two mirrors can be combined
to eliminate light from a bright star to facilitate detection of
a nearby planet or interplanetary disk. The LBT can be quickly set
at different modes to permit optimum use under different observing
will conduct studies on dark matter, quasars and black holes, how
stars form, and the origins and evolution of the universe.
telescope is being built on Mount Graham, near Safford, Ariz., at
the Mount Graham International Observatory. The site is at an elevation
of 10,400 feet and is home to several other international telescope
projects. It will be equipped with adaptive optics to correct for
atmospheric distortion. The mirrors, already cast at the Steward
Observatory's Mirror Lab, are a lightweight spun-cast honeycomb
structure. They were designed and built using an innovative technology
that allows for their giant size. The Steward Observatory is part
of the College of Science of the University of Arizona.
international partnership of universities and research institutes
in the LBT Research Consortium currently include the University
of Arizona, which leads the consortium, Ohio State University, the
University of Notre Dame, and the Research Corporation and partners
in Italy and Germany. The Research Corporation is a not-for-profit
foundation that supports research in science and science education.
The University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia are considering
joining the LBT Research Consortium.
Fariss Samarrai, (434) 924-3778