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News item - Large Binocular Telescope opens its eyes

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  • Todd S. Greene
    From: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa003&articleID=00006B44- F12D-135F-B12D83414B7F0000 [link is line-wrapped] ... New Telescope Opens Its Eyes by
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      New Telescope Opens Its Eyes
      by Tracy Staedter
      (Scientific American, 10/27/05)

      After 20 years of planning, developing and constructing, astronomers
      at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have finally released the
      first image captured by the new Large Binocular Telescope, an
      instrument with a light-gathering power 24 times greater than the
      Hubble Space Telescope. The so-called LBT, an American-German-
      Italian joint venture stationed on the 3,190-meter-high Mt. Graham
      in Arizona, will be able to image planets circling distant stars and
      is poised to help answer fundamental questions about the universe,
      including how galaxies, stars and planets evolved from the big bang.

      "The LBT will open completely new possibilities in researching
      planets outside the solar system and the investigation of the
      farthest--and thus youngest--galaxies," says Thomas Henning of the
      Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. To date, a handful of impressive
      ground-based telescopes have provided astronomers with important
      insights about the universe. For example, they have learned that
      stars form in dense cloudlike features within galaxies. But
      observing the intricacies of star birth is difficult with these
      telescopes because the radiating energy of low-mass stars and brown
      dwarfs is not bright enough to be visible and interstellar dust can
      obscure views. The Hubble Space Telescope has helped overcome some
      of these problems, but this kind of instrument is expensive to
      build, launch and maintain.

      Now a combination of advanced optics, instrumentation and high-power
      computers is making it possible for ground-based telescopes,
      particularly those situated on high mountaintops, to see deeper into
      space than ever before at a fraction of the cost. The LBT can
      resolve faint objects because it has two large mirrors--each 8.4
      meters in diameter--that focus like field glasses for viewing. By
      combining the two views, the instrument is able to collect as much
      light as a single telescope with an 11.8-meter mirror. By
      comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope's mirror is 2.4 meters in

      But the LBT doesn't rely only on its mirrors. It uses optics
      designed to adapt to observing conditions and it works with a
      combination of specialized instruments that can do such things as
      gather infrared images, detect the composition of the surface of
      stars, compensate for the blurring caused by turbulence in Earth's
      atmosphere, and boost image sharpness to a quality far better than
      that of Hubble.

      For the "first light" image, astronomers used just one of LBT's
      mirrors to capture a spiral galaxy in the constellation Andromeda.
      In the future, they will use both mirrors to conduct a number of
      studies, including observing the Jupiterlike planets known to be
      revolving around our nearest neighboring stars.
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