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Intel founder gives $200 million to build big telescope

The mirror will be 30 meters across, making it the world's largest.

December 06, 2007|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

Intel Corp. founder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, have donated $200 million to Caltech and the University of California for the construction of the world's largest optical telescope, with a mirror nearly 100 feet across and three times the size of the current record holder.

Caltech officials said Wednesday that matching gifts from the two institutions are expected to bring the total to $300 million.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation had already donated $50 million of the $79 million spent on design of the telescope and its 30-meter mirror.

The universities "are thrilled with the foundation's confidence in the project, and we and our partners are eager to create a history-making tool that will allow us to see farther into the universe than ever before," said Caltech President Jean-Lou Chameau.

The final design for the Thirty-Meter Telescope, as it is called, is expected to be completed by March 2009, with construction to begin soon after and completion expected in 2017.

Five sites are being considered for the installation, said project manager Gary Sanders of Caltech. Those include three sites in Chile, one in Baja California and one on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The plan is to select the site by next May, he said.

The technology will be similar to that used in the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, currently the largest optical telescopes in the world.

The new telescope will feature a large central mirror comprising 492 individual hexagon-shaped mirrors, each about 4.8 feet across and about 1.8 inches thick -- a little smaller and thinner than those in the Keck telescopes.

The telescope will also feature adaptive optics that will allow it to minimize distortions caused by atmospheric turbulence. Six laser beams will create bright "artificial stars" in a naturally occurring layer of sodium atoms high in Earth's atmosphere.

Because the intensity of the artificial stars will be known, electronics will allow a small "deformable" mirror in the instrument's light path to fluctuate 800 to 1,000 times per second to correct for the turbulence.

With that correction, the Thirty-Meter Telescope will be able to achieve a resolution higher than that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

That will enable it to analyze light from the first star systems born after the Big Bang, determine the physical processes governing the formation and evolution of galaxies like our own Milky Way, study planet formation around nearby stars and make observations that test the fundamental laws of physics.

thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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