Of Virginia Joins Large Binocular Telescope Consortium
October 3, 2002--
University of Virginia announced today that it has joined the Large
Binocular Telescope (LBT) project, a major new telescope being constructed
in Arizona. It will be the most powerful in the world when completed
announced its intention to take steps to respond to the needs of
Native American peoples in Arizona and Virginia. Native American
groups have voiced concerns about the location of the telescope
on a mountain that some consider sacred.
partnership of universities and research institutes in the LBT Research
Consortium includes the University of Arizona, which leads the consortium;
Ohio State University; the University of Notre Dame; and the Research
Corp., plus partners in Italy and Germany. University of Minnesota
Interim President Robert H. Bruininks announced Sept. 27 that he
has recommended consortium membership to his Board of Regents.
$4 million investment will give its astronomers seven nights per
year of dedicated astronomical observing time on the telescope,
as well as access to several other smaller telescopes world-wide.
Access will be provided through the Research Corp., a Tucson science
advancement foundation that is a partner in the telescope project,
and the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory. In addition
to funding, U.Va. will provide instrumentation expertise to the
telescope consortium and will contribute to the astronomical research.
the agreement, U.Va. Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block said,
"This has been a difficult decision because of our desire to
weigh concerns about the project expressed by Native American groups
with our scientific interest in joining with partners on the most
powerful telescope ever built. We have concluded that joining the
consortium is critical for the future of astronomical research at
U.Va. We're hopeful that we can participate in a way that is respectful
of the needs and concerns of Native American people."
“We are pleased that the University of Arizona has agreed
to involve Native American representatives in future land-use decisions
at the site,” he said.
The LBT and
two smaller telescopes are located on Mount Graham in the Coronado
National Forest near Safford, Ariz. The site was selected years
ago 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. Astronomers will
conduct studies on dark matter, quasars and black holes, how stars
form and the origins and evolution of the universe.
an important step in our effort to become a top astronomy department,"
said Robert Rood, chair of the U.Va. astronomy department. "Involvement
with the LBT will help us recruit outstanding students and faculty
and meets our goal of gaining access to some of the world's best
Rood added that
the telescope project also will be a good fit for U.Va. astronomers,
some of whom are experts at designing and working with innovative
years the project has faced objections from environmental groups
and from members of the San Carlos Apaches and the White Mountain
Tribe of Arizona, who consider the telescope site one of four sacred
mountains important to their rituals and religious beliefs. Many
of the objections have been directed toward the University of Arizona,
which initiated the project several years ago with little involvement
from Native American groups.
To address these
concerns, Block asked the U.Va. Faculty Senate to appoint an ad
hoc advisory committee, which considered the issues for and against
University involvement with the telescope. The group concluded,
“The committee is convinced that the project is of vital importance
to the University of Virginia astronomy program. An exhaustive review
of opportunities to take part in the programs for other large telescope
projects reveals no opportunity combining the LBT’s capabilities
generally and the match of its specific instrumentation to the research
interests of the faculty.”
At the same
time, the committee made several recommendations “to change
for the better [the consortium universities’] relations with
Native American communities.” They include the following,
which Block said the University has agreed to adopt:
University of Arizona, the lead consortium institution, to create
a Native American Advisory Committee to help guide future decisions
on land use at the Mount Graham site (Prior to this recommendation,
the University of Arizona was considering creating such a committee,
Block said, and has agreed to do so.)
and employment opportunities for Native
at the observatory and member universities, such as:
Cultural and educational exchanges for students and faculty with
members of the San Carlos and White Mountain Tribes;
the University's relationships with Native American peoples in
Virginia, particularly with the Monacan Nation;
with the U.S. Forest Service to improve access to Mount Graham
by Apache people (the Forest Service manages Mount Graham); and
Native American representation at U.Va. by actively recruiting
Native American students and faculty, and by enhancing scholarly
research in Native American Studies.
concluded, "It is our hope that [by following these recommendations]
participation might lead not to only to greater scientific understanding,
but also to a spirit of renewal and understanding among the many
communities affected by the project."
sincere about helping the Apache people in ways related to our educational
mission," Rood said. "As astronomers, we want as little
negative impact on the mountain as possible and to ensure that the
Apache people have access to the mountaintop."
The LBT, now
in its sixth year of construction, will overcome many of the technological
and physical barriers that have limited ground-based astronomy.
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
and is expected to show detail on as fine a scale as a single-mirror
telescope 74 feet across -- as clear as pictures from the Hubble
Space Telescope. Currently the world's largest single-mirror telescope
is 33 feet across.
participation in the consortium is possible through part of a $10
million gift from Frank and Wynnette Levinson of Palo Alto, Calif.
Frank Levinson studied astronomy at U.Va and earmarked that money
for the astronomy department, which has had a long-time priority
on joining a large optical telescope project.
will invest about $4 million into the project: about $2 million
for observation time on the LBT and $2 million to the Steward Observatory
for use of other telescopes. The remaining $6 million will be used
by the astronomy department for its telescope instrumentation lab,
for renovation of space, to support graduate students and postdoctoral
fellows, and for education and outreach projects.
Samarrai, (434) 924-3778