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Telescope Facelift

June 2, 2011

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory is about to get a facelift.

Beginning later this year, engineers will replace the mirrors, instruments, and electronics that sit high above the telescope's main mirror. That'll give the giant telescope a wider and sharper view of the sky.

It's part of an extensive upgrade for HETDEX -- the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment -- which is scheduled to get underway next year.

HETDEX will measure the positions and motions of more than a million galaxies. That'll help determine how the rate at which the universe expands has changed over time. It's a critical measurement in the effort to understand dark energy, which is causing the universe to expand faster as it ages.

HETDEX will look at thousands of galaxies each night. But to do so, it'll need a wider view of the heavens than the telescope currently provides. Karl Gebhardt, a HETDEX project scientist, explains:

GEBHARDT: To understand what dark energy is, we need a really wide field. The field now for the telescope, it would take tens to 50 years to do what we want to do for dark energy. So we're going to increase the field by a factor of 25.

Achieving the wider field of view requires a new set of small mirrors mounted high above HET's main mirror. They'll bring the telescope's view into sharp focus, then feed the light to new instruments -- helping HETDEX shed some light on the problem of dark energy.

More tomorrow.




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