Steward receives mirror's housing

By John McMahon

Arizona Daily Wildcat

A 27-ton steel ring housing a 21-foot-diameter mirror for the Smithsonian's Multiple Mirror Telescope on Mount Hopkins was delivered yesterday to the UA Steward Observatory's Mirror Lab beneath Arizona Stadium.

The new ring and mirror, when installed, will make the telescope 2 1/2 times stronger, said MMT Observatory director Frederic H. Chaffee, making the it "the largest and most powerful telescope in the continental United States."

"This thing is huge," said Chaffee, who explained that the steel ring was transported from New Mexico by police escort, taking up two full lanes of interstate traffic.

Mirror lab staff have already completed construction on the 21-foot and 30-inch concave and convex mirrors, which will be placed within the housing, said Mirror Lab Manager Stephen F. Hinman. Hinman explained that the two mirrors are polished six to eight hours every day with iron oxides, or "rouge," similar in composition to the makeup by the same name.

"We'll finish polishing [the large mirror] in June and by the time we put it in the telescope cell, test it and move it to the mountains, it'll be early 1997 or late 1996," he said.

The $1 million housing was funded by the Smithsonian, which accepted bids from "very few companies," Chaffee said, due to the complexity of building such a large telescope part.

Eventually, the Smithsonian chose T.I.W. Fabrication, a firm from Albuquerque, N. M., which specializes in the construction of antennas and large steel structures.

Complex mechanical parts accompanied the housing. The parts will be added to the ring, along with the mirror, and adjusted until next summer.

At that time, when all the mirror components have been integrated, the telescope will undergo six months of testing in the mirror lab.

Only after full testing is performed will the UA transport the mirror and the housing up to Mount Hopkins, south of Tucson, and replace the old six smaller mirrors with the new larger one, Chaffee said.

Larry Carter, the driver for Hutchins Trucking who transported the 55,000 pounds worth of equipment from Albuquerque to Tucson, said he drove 280 miles out of his way because of "roads too narrow or with no shoulder." On thinner parts of the interstate, Carter explained, no one was able to pass his truck for miles.

"When [drivers] stack up too deep behind you, you gotta just find a wide spot and pull over onto the rail," said Carter, who was accompanied during his entire voyage by a pilot driver service.

Read Next Article