Observatory to be dedicated today

The University partially owns the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona.

Kari Petrie

The nearly complete Arizona observatory, which the University partially owns, will be dedicated today.

Leonard Kuhi, head of the University’s astronomy department, wrote in an e-mail that he is looking forward to the event. The observatory promises to be innovative in its discovery, he wrote.

The $110 million Large Binocular Telescope sits on the top of Mount Graham, near Safford, Ariz. It has been the center of controversy because the Apache American Indian tribe considers the mountain holy.

A fire on the mountain threatened to damage the observatory in July, but it remained unscathed. The University invested $5 million in the project.

Although the telescope will not be complete until 2006, it is already gathering data, said Peter Strittmatter, director of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

“Everything is moving along pretty smoothly,” he said.

University of Minnesota astronomers will be able to use the telescope in a year when the second mirror is added, Kuhi wrote.

After almost 20 years of planning for the telescope, Kuhi wrote, it is “tremendously exciting” to be near completion.

He wrote it is unpredictable to know what discoveries the telescope will make.

“New telescopes and new instruments have always brought surprising new discoveries,” he wrote.

Despite the technological advancements the telescope will offer, members of the Apache tribe have voiced concern over the project. No tribe members could be reached for comment.

In April, tribe members said the mountain is their most sacred site.

“(Mount Graham) is the connection between the spiritual world and the world of today,” said Wendsler Nosie, director of Apaches for Cultural Preservation.

Kuhi wrote he is still optimistic that the dispute can be resolved.

“The mountain really is big enough for all of us,” he wrote.