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Interferometry IV

February 11, 2016

This spring, a truck will ferry a 64-inch telescope up a twisting mountain road to Magdalena Ridge Observatory in New Mexico. The telescope will be checked out in a test facility, then moved to a nearby concrete pad. Eventually, nine identical telescopes will join it to form the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer. Astronomers will combine the light from the individual telescopes to produce some of the sharpest images of the cosmos ever snapped — a hundred times sharper than those from Hubble Space Telescope.

The system will be the most complex optical interferometer to date. It’ll have more individual telescopes, and it’s set up so that the telescopes can be moved to different locations — 28 in all. When the telescopes are close together, they’ll provide a “big picture” view of their target. When they’re spread out — farther than the length of three football fields — they’ll see exquisite detail.

The system includes a complex system of computers, tubes, and mirrors – all monitored by lasers — that’ll adjust the distance the light from each telescope must travel to reach the scientific instruments. That will insure that the light from all the telescopes arrives at the same time. Without that adjustment, the system wouldn’t work at all.

The list of targets for the Magdalena Ridge interferometer will include binary stars, exploding stars, orbiting satellites, and even black holes at the hearts of galaxies. More about that tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield


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