Flagstaff, AZLowell Observatory welcomes two key developments today in the building of the Discovery Channel Telescope. First, the U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest, issued a Finding of No Significant Impact allowing construction of the versatile astronomical instrument to begin near Happy Jack, Arizona. Another recent major step that is now complete is the fusing of the glass primary mirror by subcontractor Corning, Inc. of Canton, New York. The Discovery Channel Telescope is expected to be the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States.
"We are encouraged and energized by these two benchmarks towards eventual first light for DCT," said Bob Millis, Director of Lowell Observatory. "The Observatory sincerely thanks all the Forest Service professionals, EnviroSystems Management, Inc., and our supporters who helped make approval of the site possible. Likewise, we are pleased that the work by Corning has been successful in fusing the primary mirror."
According to the decision signed by Nora B. Rasure, Forest Supervisor of the Coconino National Forest that incorporates a synopsis of over a year of rigorous site testing by Lowell Observatory at Happy Jack: "Very few sites within the continental United States possess the characteristics that would justify the cost of building and operating a modern telescope. The site has demonstrated an extraordinary combination of astronomically related qualities, including exceptionally clean unpolluted air, stable atmospheric conditions thousands of feet above the site, dark skies, and numerous clear nights. In addition, the proximity of a paved road, electrical power, and the opportunity to share facilities at the Happy Jack Ranger Station reduces the cost of development and disturbance of new land. The area also has minimal resource issues relative to heritage resources and wildlife issues."
The Forest Service decision states: "There appears to be an overwhelming local and non-local support for this project." The site is about 40 miles south, southeast of Flagstaff near the Mogollon Rim of the Colorado Plateau.
"Discovery Communications has always been committed to exploration and the most important scientific research in the world. The Discovery Channel Telescope is continuing that mission," said John S. Hendricks, Founder and Chairman of Discovery Communications, Inc. "Together, the partnership between Discovery and Lowell will allow millions of people and students to explore the mysteries of our universe and bring the most exciting discoveries to citizens around the world."
As the environmental assessment for the site was moving towards a successful conclusion, the nearly 7,200-pound, 4.3-meter-diameter (14.1 ft.) primary mirror was fused together from hexagons of ultra low expansion glass (ULE) at Corning, Inc.
"This is where it starts coming together as our mirror," said Byron Smith, Project Manager for the Discovery Channel Telescope.
The ULE glass helps minimize changes in the large mirror's shape with changes in temperature. Next steps in the mirror construction process include "sagging" or the setting of the curvature of the 4.3-meter diameter mirror. Then, many stages of figuring and polishing the mirror will begin to bring it to its final precise shape.
Meanwhile, Lowell Observatory is seeking bids to improve the access road leading from County Highway 3 (Mormon Lake Road) to the top of the small mountain where the powerful Discovery Channel Telescope will be located.
Expected to propel the Observatory and its partners into a new era of astronomical discoveries with a wide range of science and astronomy outreach activities, the Discovery Channel Telescope will be operational in 2008/2009, according to the current construction schedule.
Founded in 1894, Lowell Observatory's mission is to pursue the study of astronomy, especially the study of our solar system and its evolution; to conduct pure research in astronomical phenomena; and to maintain quality public education and outreach programs to bring the results of astronomical research to the general public.
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