Donation allows U advancement via telescope access

by Latasha Webb

The University’s Department of Astronomy has become a partial owner of the world’s most powerful telescope, now under construction on an Arizona mountaintop.
With a $5 million donation from Hubbard Broadcasting, the University has purchased a 5 percent share of the telescope,
“The donation means that the astronomy department will be able to play in the major leagues,” said Ted Davis, Institute of Technology dean. “You really have to have access to the latest in large telescope technology. And this puts us there.”
The telescope, called Large Binocular Telescope, has a greater resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope and is expected to be finished by 2004.
“(We can) expect to see things we have never seen before. We will be able to see fainter and fainter sources in greater and greater detail,” said Evan Skillman, an astronomy professor.
The LBT is being built at Mount Graham International Observatory near Stafford, Ariz. The telescope will use two 20-ton mirrors, each 8.3 meters in diameter, to study the Big Bang and the beginning of the universe. Its mirrors can see light from 14 billion years ago.
“(The LBT) will have ten times better resolution and 25 times more light collecting area than the Hubble Space Telescope,” said Leonard Kuhi, astronomy department chairman.
The LBT also has a new feature, unavailable when the Hubble Space Telescope was built, called adaptive optics. This new feature will allow the LBT to see through turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere.
University students will be able to observe and communicate with the Arizona telescope from Minnesota via the Internet.
The University is one of several shareholders in the project which includes the University of Arizona, Ohio State University, the University of Notre Dame, the Research Corporation and groups in Italy and Germany.
The $5 million Hubbard Broadcasting gift brings contributions to Campaign Minnesota, a $1.3 billion private fund-raising effort, to a total of $19 million.

Latasha Webb covers the Institute of Technology and welcomes comments at webb[email protected]. She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3237