Huge new telescope brings stars closer


by Heidi Goitia

Bio | Email | Follow: @heidigoitia

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 1:51 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 1 at 1:32 AM

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NEAR HAPPY JACK, Ariz. -- There’s a new telescope tucked deep within the forest east of Flagstaff that has the astronomy community seeing stars.

The brand-new $53 million Discovery Channel Telescope has just been completed and is just about ready for regular use. It’s the fifth biggest ocular telescope in the country and in the top 20 worldwide.

That impressive size has to do with its primary mirror, which measures 14 feet in diameter, is 4 inches thick and weighs an incredible 6,700 pounds. That mirror has local roots, being polished at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

The telescope’s use is impressive because of an equipment cube designed to accommodate several instruments at once, allowing for a large range of research to be done. That diversity was a key factor in funding the project, making it accessible to not only Lowell astronomers but to astronomers associated with funding partners as well.

Scientists have already been able to get a closer look at objects within our own solar system, kuiper belts and new galaxies beyond our own.

Project Manager Bill DeGroff says telescopes at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff have been the work horses for decades and were becoming outdated. To remain competitive, researchers knew a new telescope was necessary.

That was more than a decade ago. It’s taken that long to secure funding, find a site and build it.

The site near the small community of Happy Jack was chosen because of its dark skies, clear air and unobstructed view of the sky.

DeGroff says now that it’s done, the sky’s the limit.