Giant Mirrors to Capture the Universe

Uploaded by Arizona on 27.03.2012

Roger Angel: Building a telescope can be a little bit like building a cathedral. From
the day the chunks of raw glass get delivered on the doorstep to the day that the door opens
and out goes that glass turned into a mirror that’s about four years, but every year
we get a new batch of glass and every year a new mirror goes out of the door. It’s
like one a year is the production rate. We’re at the Stewart Observatory Mirror Lab and
this is under the football stadium on the campus of the U of A. The lab is unique, we
make here the biggest telescope mirrors in the world. The size is limited by two things,
one is the size of the freeway, because if you build one here you have to get it someplace,
and the other one is actually the spacing between the columns of the stadium. Both of
those set a limit which is about twenty seven feet in diameter. Now the biggest telescope
in the world is the large binocular telescope, with two twenty seven foot mirrors, which
is on Mt. Graham in Arizona. That has worked so well that now we want to make one with
seven mirrors, seven twenty seven foot mirrors all working together. When you put seven of
them together you make images that are ten times sharper than the Hubble telescope.
Peter Strittmatter: Roger Angel has revolutionized the making of mirrors for large telescopes.
How did we come to exist? How did life originate? How did the galaxy in which we live come about?
The telescopes that we are building are all designed to address those fundamental questions
about the origin of life.
Wenrui Cai: Professor Roger Angel is really a great guy. He has got a lot of really great
ideas. Our job is to make those ideas work. We learn a lot of optical theories from him
in the classroom; at the same time we can do our practice in the big projects going
on in here.
Roger Angel: What does it take in order to make the best mirrors and the best telescopes
in the world? You have to get the to the right shape and everything, but also have to control
their temperature. They have to be exactly the right temperature to make a good image.
If it gets out of hand you can crack it or you can put stress in it. So you wouldn’t
think of it, but I spend almost as much time on thermal engineering as I have on optical
engineering and it’s the same with mechanical engineering. It’s not any one of these things
that the “a ha” moment makes the solution, it’s actually thinking about the system
of making things and the system of using things. So it’s putting all the pieces together
that’s fun.