The University Record, February 13, 1996

U joins consortium to build huge
optical telescopes in Chile

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

The University has joined the Magellan Project-a consortium of research institutions that will build and operate two 6.5-meter optical/infrared telescopes at Las Campanas, Chile. Lead partner in the $67.7 million project is the Carnegie Institution of washington. Other Magellan partners include Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institue of Technology and the University of Arizona.

When used together, the two telescopes will have the light-gathering power of a single 9.2-meter mirror-making Magellan the largest private astronomy facility in the southern hemisphere, according to the Douglas O. Richstone, professor of astronomy.

"Large-aperture telescopes are 'discovery machines,' designed to probe the farthest reaches of the universe and explore its origins and structure-in addition to observing of current star and planet formation in our own galaxy," Richstone says. "Participation in the Magellan Project will allow U-M astonomers to play a leading role in the golden age of cosmic exploration now in its infancy."

The superior light-gathering capability of the Magellan telescopes will give the astronomers data that cannot be obtained with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), Richstone explains. "HST's higher resolution allows us to locate distant objects in the universe, but its small aperture size makes it impossible to collect enough light to determine their distance, temperature, composition or age. Using data from large ground-based telescopes in collaboration with space telescope observations will give us much more complete information that we would obtain from either instrument alone."

Construction of the Magellan I telescope and foundations for Magellan II began in 1994 in the desert foothills of the Chilean Andes. Magellan I is scheduled for completion by mid-1998. Located in one of the driest spots on Earth with an elevation of 7,200 feet above sea level, the Las Campanas site offers the perfect observation combination of clear weather, isolation from city lights and stable atmospheric conditions. Since it is in the Southern Hemisphere, astronomers will have year-round viewing access to the Magellanic Clouds, nearby clusters of galaxies and the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

"The magellan project represents an unparalleled opportunity to expand frontiers of astronomy into a regime that promises to be extraordinarily exciting," says Homer A. Neal, vice-president for research. "Major strides in the continuing quest to understand the universe and its origins will require increasingly bold steps to provide uor best scientists with the state-of-the-art tools needed to conduct their measurements."

LSA Dean Edie N. Goldenberg says," This is a very important investment in the future of outstanding science education and learning at Michigan. By joining with other institutions in this partnership, we can do together what no single institution can manage on its own-to provide the vehicles for making fundamental discoveries about the formation and evalution of galaxies and the structure of the universe."

The U-M will fund 10 percent of the $67.7-million capital costs and 10 percent of the annual operating expenditures for the Magellan project, in exchange for 10 percent of the observing time on the telescopes. "Because of the high cost of travel to Chile, actual visits to the telescopes will probably be limited.," Richstone says. "But we plan to use the internet to provide 'over-the-shoulder' observing access for our undergraduate and graduate students, so we can maximize the educational value of the project."

The University has operated major astronomical facilities since the construction of its first observatory in 1854. Currently, the U-M operates two smaller optical telescopes-the W.A. Hiltner telescope and the McGraw-Hill telescope in a consortium with MIT and Dartmouth at Kitt Peak in southern Arizona.