The University of Arizona formally rededicated its mirror lab Friday to honor the man whose donations made two of the largest telescope
projects in the world possible. The Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab is named for the Scottsdale manufacturer whose early $3 million donation to the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope made it possible to jumpstart that $500 million project. It was ultimately taken on by the National Science Foundation and isbeing built on a mountaintop in Chile.
Caris is founder and chairman of Interface Inc., which makes a variety of electronic components, some of which are used by the UA in its telescope mirror assemblies.
Last year, Caris gave $20 million toward the UA’s share in the Giant Magellan Telescope. Glass for a fourth 8.4meter mirror for that telescope was melting into a honeycombed mold in a spinning furnace beneath Arizona Stadium as UA dignitaries celebrated Caris in a tent outside.
The UA is one of 11 international partners in the GMT, which, when its seven 8.4meter segments are mounted together, will have the resolving power of a telescope 24.5 meters (83.5 feet) wide.
If built before two competing telescope proposals, it will be the largest telescope the world.
“GMT is the next step in trying to understand extrasolar planets and the early universe,” said Buell Jannuzi, director of Steward Observatory and the Department of Astronomy at the UA.
UA astronomers who are already imaging planets around nearby stars led media tours of the mirror lab and explained how the resolving power and lightgathering capability of the next generation of giant telescopes will enhance their ability to look for habitable planets around stars.
Right now, said astronomer Jared Males, we can image giantsized planets far from their suns. With GMT, he said,”we can scale it up — work three or four times closer to the sun and see planets that are 10 times fainter.” Males is working on a project called MagAO, an adaptive optics system for the 6.5meter
Magellan telescope in Chile, led by UA astronomer Laird Close.