New Mexico telescope to advance astronomy

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SOCORRO, N.M. (KRQE) – The first of ten large optical telescopes, designed to radically advance astronomy, has arrived at a remote mountaintop in New Mexico.

Delicately hauled up miles of rough, rocky mountain roads, it will be the first installed in New Mexico Tech’s Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer.

The views from all ten optical telescopes will ultimately be combined with sophisticated electronics and hardware to create a single view equal in resolution to that of a much larger telescope.

“This is the most ambitious interferometer at optical and infrared wavelengths being built in the world today,” said MROI Project Scientist Michelle Creech-Eakman.

After years of work by Creech-Eakman and many others at New Mexico Tech, much of the rest of the MROI facility is complete, including the sprawling beam combining facility. That’s where views from individual telescopes will be combined so that the result reflects a simultaneous view from each telescope. Despite the fact that each telescope is a different distance from the combining facility.

It is a strategy used at a nearby multi-dish ‘radio’ telescope, the Very Large Array, operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

The VLA is just a few miles west of the MROI. Radio imagery is collected by 27 antennas and combined to create sharper views.

The new MROI will have many tasks in the world of optical astronomy.

“It will be able to look at stars, external galaxies…the black holes in the center of them in particular,” said Creech-Eakman.

The facility will also be doing a project on space situational awareness, examining satellites in geosynchronous orbit to determine how they’re doing and their health.

More telescopes, and the enclosures that will protect them when they are deployed in the array, are on the way.

The facility will begin to combine light from the first two telescopes in about two years. As the instrument grows, there are high hopes for the new, more clear views of the universe.

“We’re expecting to do some really miraculous things that other interferometers have done before us, but we’re hoping to take it to the next level,” said Creech-Eakman.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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