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SDSU Intends to Build 100-Inch Telescope : University Focuses on International Research Status Atop Mt. Laguna

January 10, 1989|SHAWN MAREE SMITH | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to develop one of the world's major observatories, San Diego State University officials have announced plans to build a powerful, $2-million research telescope at their Mt. Laguna Observatory 40 miles east of San Diego.

The university hopes the 100-inch telescope will attract astronomers from around the world to study at the observatory, which sits 6,100 feet above sea level in the Cleveland National Forest. Its visitor center already has two apartments for visiting astronomers.

"We hope to have astronomers from all over the world come to use this telescope," said Ronald Angione, director of the observatory, which has telescopes of 16, 21, 24 and 40 inches. "There are about 15 telescopes this size or larger in the world. They're relatively rare."

Angione said the telescope project has been a dream of the university's "for a good 10 years."

The power of a telescope is measured by the diameter of its mirror, Angione explained. The larger the telescope, the more the light can be broken up into spectrums or diluted to study the physical properties of stars. With the new telescope, researchers will be able to see light six times fainter and detect objects as far away as 10 billion light-years away.

"We would concentrate on two main areas of study: the study of distant, faint objects and spectroscopy--the study of the breaking of light of a star into a rainbow to determine its composition," Angione said.

The university will spend about $2 million to build and house the telescope, a fraction of the estimated $5 million that it would have cost to build the same telescope a few years ago, Angione said.

"New techniques and new materials allow us to make telescopes much more compact than before," he said.

The university hopes to finance the telescope--construction of which will take about two years--solely through public donations, fund-raisers and alumni and friends of the school. A support group, Mt. Laguna Observatory Associates, will conduct fund-raisers to help finance the project.

The astronomy department at SDSU is considered fairly large, Angione said, with about 50 undergraduate and 15 to 20 graduate students.

San Diego County's largest telescope, the second-largest in the world, is the 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory, operated by the California Institute of Technology. Mt. Wilson east of Los Angeles also has a 100-inch telescope.

The largest telescope in the world is 236 inches, owned by the Soviet Union. A 400-inch telescope, a joint project of the University of California and Caltech, is under construction at Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

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