The hour of classroom explanation and the 3/4 hour of actual tour was fascinating - much more so that we had expected. No one in our group was even an amateur astronomer and our guide’s presentation was such that we could all understand it. Because telescopes and the mirrors that make them work are so expensive, they are a collaborative effort. for example one they built here was financed 10 ways:
25% University of Arizona
12.5% Ohio University
12.5% 6 other universities.
And, each one can use the telescope for the percentage of time that they paid for. Thus, there is no secrecy behind them and we could take any pictures or movies that we wanted in the lab.
Here’s some history: In 1608 the first telescope was invented but it was pretty limited and was only like what a Captain of a ship used to see other ships.
In 1609 Galileo wrote a letter to the Prince of Venice telling him that he could build a telescope that would enable the Prince to see what ships were coming in to shore sooner than anyone else: whether they be trading ships with goods or enemy war ships.
After our guide’s presentation we walked out into the lab itself.
How they make these large telescope mirrors is way above my pay grade but - here’s my layman’s explanation of what they’re doing. And, believe me, I am a layman.
An 8m x 2m cylinder of glass/mirror would weigh a lot and be too cumbersome to deal with. They needed to make it much lighter. They begin with a base shown here in the photo. This base needs to withstand the > 2000 degree temps that the mirror will be heated.
Then they arrange lots of specially designed glass on top in a parabolic shape - thicker on the outside, thinner in the middle.
The oven is then cooled to 990° during the next 4 days. Over the next 40 days the whole structure is cooled to 840° and then over the next 66 days it is cooled to room temperature. The ‘oven’ is opened, the structure is put on edge and the silicon hexagons are hosed down and washed out.
Now you need to put a thin sliver of aluminum on it and polish it to a fare-thee-well. Pretty simple, huh? Here’s the polisher which is entirely run by electronics.
Neither Gary nor I have any experience with astronomy, nor do we own telescopes, but we would certainly recommend the Caris mirror lab to you to see this for yourself. Very cool.
Afterward we walked around the campus to see the original observatory.
Afterward we walked through the Campus town area and found the 4th Avenue Street Fair which runs this weekend.
We’ve seen craftsmanship of many different forms today, from old cars lovingly restored to telescope mirrors scientifically engineered to home crafts artistically designed to ice cream exquisitely whipped. Hmmm, maybe I’ve gone too far here.
‘Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.’