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New Mexico Tech Signs MRO Telescopes Contract with Amos

MRO telescope

by Dr. Eric Bakker and Dr. Michelle Creech-Eakman

Right: Artist's impression of the MRO interferometer telescope to be designed and built by AMOS (courtesy of AMOS).

SOCORRO, N.M., Aug. 2, 2007 – Administrators at New Mexico Tech recently signed a contract with Advanced Mechanical and Optical Systems (AMOS) to have the Belgian company design and build telescopes for the research university’s Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO) Interferometer project.

The MRO Interferometer telescopes will be 1.4 meter (approximately 55 inches) in diameter and employ an innovative three-mirror design. The re-locatable telescopes are optimized for the efficient transmission of reflected stellar light.

These telescopes, coupled with the rest of the MRO Interferometry facility, will enable the interferometer to make images of the earliest phases of star and planet formation, complex astrophysical processes in single and multiple star systems, and the environments of black holes in the hearts of other galaxies.

The MRO Interferometer will be the equivalent, at optical wavelengths, of the existing Very Large Array (VLA) radio-telescope, which is also located west of Socorro. MRO will have much higher resolution, since it operates at shorter wavelengths.

The MRO Interferometer is being collaboratively designed and built by researchers at New Mexico Tech, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in England.

The project will be completed in phases, with the initial phase being three telescopes constructed by AMOS, all of which will have near-infrared imaging capabilities. Eventually, the array will consist of 10 telescopes.

When completed, the instrument will be capable of producing images of about 100 times greater resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope.

AMOS has been building telescopes for astronomical and space applications since 1983, including the design and delivery of the auxiliary telescopes for the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer.

The optics for the MRO Interferometer’s first six telescopes are currently being fabricated by Optical Surface Technologies in Albuquerque, with the first telescope scheduled to be delivered to MRO facilities during the Summer of 2009. Subsequent telescopes are scheduled to arrive every six months thereafter, assuming sufficient funding.

MRO Interferometer

Left: Aerial view of the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer (by Edie Steinhoff, NMT) with superimposed artist's impression of the telescopes and buildings (courtesy of M3 Engineering and Technology). As of July 2007, most of the buildings have been constructed.

The astronomical research facility housing the interferometer’s scientific research equipment is referred to as the Beam Combining Facility (BCF) and has been under construction atop the Magdalena Mountains in south-central New Mexico since the fall of 2006. Completion is anticipated for later this year.

The BCF was designed by M3 Engineering and Technology of Tucson and is being constructed by K.L. House of Albuquerque. This facility will house the specialized optics and detectors that enable the interferometer to operate at the very high rates needed to “freeze” atmospheric turbulence and produce high-resolution images of astrophysical objects.

-NMT-

For further information, please contact:
Dr. Eric J. Bakker
Project manager MRO interferometry
505-835-6648 (office)
505-418-7453 (cell)
ebakker@mro.nmt.edu

Prof. Michelle Creech-Eakman
Project scientist MRO interferometry
505-835-6756 (office)
mce@kestrel.nmt.edu