Nov 032013

MROI Unit Telescope arriving at the EMRTC at New Mexico Tech on November 1, 2013

The first MRO Interferometer (MROI) Unit Telescope (UT) arrived from Belgium at the New Mexico Tech (NMT) campus on Friday November 1st. The long awaited arrival of the telescope, a major milestone for the project, which has been more than 15 years in the making. The crate containing the telescope was opened on Monday, November 4th at the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center (EMRTC) and the telescope will be stored there until it is transported to the Telescope Receiving Facility, part of the MRO visitors center and maintenance facility (VCMF) on the Magdalena Ridge at the end of February, 2014.

The MROI will be a ten-element imaging interferometer operating at visible and near-infrared wavelengths, between 0.6 and 2.4 microns with baselines from 7.8 to 340 meters.

MROI Unit Telescope at AMOS in Belgium

MROI Unit Telescope at AMOS in Belgium

The MROI UT is a movable unit made up of the telescope mount, optics, enclosure and ancillary systems required for routine operation. The telescope mount, designed and constructed by AMOS in Leige, Belgium, is an elevation over elevation design with a fixed output beam implemented using only three mirrors. The telescope will be housed in an enclosure, designed by EIE of Mestre, Italy, features a rigid frame to support the telescope mount during relocation and a unique low profile dome and shutter to allow the telescopes to be placed in very close proximity without obscuring the field of view of an adjacent telescope.

Ancillary systems included within the UT structure are a “fast tip-tilt” system, designed by the University of Cambridge, which corrects for first-order atmospheric distortions, an automated alignment system that aligns the telescope with the delay lines in the beam combining facility, a wide-field finder telescope, and controls and network infrastructure.


Array foundations at the MROI site

Further work will be carried out at the Telescope Receiving Facility section of the VCMF. The Receiving Facility will mimic the foundations of the array, cooling systems, and various other external systems required for the telescope mount to function, including a pared down version of the enclosure. The Receiving Facility will allow the engineers to test the telescope mount to confirm its functions are working properly and help to integrate it with other systems of the MROI. These tests are expected to be complete by the beginning of Summer, 2014.

The technical and scientific goals are to produce model-independent images of faint and complex astronomical targets at resolutions over 100 times that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Oct 032013

Dr. Michelle Creech-Eakman looking at a Keck segment at the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The Keck Interferometer, which Creech-Eakman worked on at JPL, closed in 2012 and which, in part, the MROI will replace.

Dr. Michelle Creech-Eakman has been working for years on a project of astronomical proportions and she recently gave a TEDxABQ talk to a packed Popejoy Hall at University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque about this ambitious project and its unmatched capabilities.

Dr. Creech-Eakman’s talk, “The Magdalena Ridge Observatory houses technology that will change our understanding of the universe”, described the array of ten telescopes that is being constructed on Magdalena Ridge. Creech-Eakman is Chair of the Physics Department at New Mexico Tech (NMT) and Project Scientist for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer (MROI).

TED, a prestigious national nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading was created in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from the three worlds of Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED). In addition to two annual conferences — the TED Conference and TEDGlobal — TED includes the award-winning TED Talks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the annual TED Prize, and the TED Fellows and TEDx programs.

In the words of the TED organization, “The TEDx program gives communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.”

The array of telescopes that is currently being constructed on Magdalena Ridge “will have three hundred times the resolution of the Hubble telescope”, said Dr Creech-Eakman during her presentation. She explained the science of Interferometry, the combining of multiple beams of lights to create a single image, pointing out that “we all carry an interferometer around with us at all times in the form of your own two eyes”. She also explained how recent cuts in Federal funding to scientific projects have placed the completion of the Interferometer in jeopardy as she called for public support for funding to complete the project.

“The impact of the present funding squeeze on science projects is devastating” said Dr Ifan Payne, Program Director for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory, “It is so important to be able to participate in a public forum such as this and to have the opportunity to explain the importance of our science, the positive impact that the project has on the economy of the state, the effect that funding cuts have had on our ability to complete the construction of the MROI, and why, therefore, the need to seek alternative participation”.

Speaking of her experience of standing in front of a packed Popejoy Hall, Dr. Creech-Eakman said, “I’ve been teaching for many years so standing up in front of people and speaking about these concepts isn’t new to me, but at TEDxABQ, the audience was a lot bigger than I’m used to. They were so interactive and responsive, which brought a whole new dimension to the talk that it never had in rehearsal.”

“We’re all made of star stuff,” explained Dr. Creech-Eakman during that talk, “and that’s pretty incredible if you think about it. That’s why we’re building this interferometer: So we can learn more about the stars.” And therefore about ourselves. Which is why, she concluded, we should all be interested in seeing the interferometer completed, even though we may not all be astronomers.

A video of Dr. Michelle Creech-Eakman’s TEDx talk can be viewed below or directly from the TEDxABQ YouTube page.

For a list of all the talks at the TEDxABQ event please visit the TEDxABQ YouTube page.

Aug 142013


On Saturday, August 10th, the Magdalena Ridge Observatory hosted a star party as part of the global International Starry Night Event. Coinciding with the Perseid Meteor shower, events were held around the world as part of the first International Starry Night, a celebration of starlight. Despite the non cooperating weather, 111 registered guests attended, along with MRO  staff and volunteers  from the New Mexico Tech (NMTAstronomy ClubNMT Physics Department, Langmuir LaboratoryNMT Board of RegentsNMT President, NMT Cabinet, and the Socorro High School Golf Team.

Tours of the 2.4-meter Telescope and the Interferometer were provided for guests by the MRO staff. Langmuir Laboratory and the NMT Physics Department representatives talked about the lightning research conducted on the mountain including the lightning mapping array, imaging of triggered lightning strikes, and instrumentation that is launched on balloons to measure electric fields.

Judging by the success of this inaugural event, the International Starry Night Event looks set to become an annual event in the MRO calendar.


Dr. Eileen Ryan of the 2.4-meter Telescope giving a tour to event guests.


Dr. Dan Klinglesmith of the Interferometer giving a tour to event guests.


Cloudy evening at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Starry Night Event on August 10th, 2013

Jul 192013
MRO and Cavendish Laboratory engineers inspect the delay line trolley at the MRO laboratory.

MRO and Cavendish Laboratory engineers inspect the delay line trolley at the MRO laboratory.

On June 28, 2013  the first delay line trolley, built by the Cavendish Laboratory team at Cambridge University arrived in Socorro, NM for site acceptance verification tests and installation at the Observatory on Magdalena Ridge. The arrival of the trolley is a major milestone for the project because the Delay Line System is one of the essential subsystems of the Interferometer. As part of the beam train system, the delay line is responsible for correcting path delay between telescopes due to the different locations of the telescopes and from atmospheric turbulence. Such corrections are difficult to make as they must be done precisely and in real time.

Following delivery from the University of Cambridge the trolley has been reassembled and placed on its track at MRO laboratory on the New Mexico Tech campus. Initial functionality tests  have shown to be successful. Performance tests will be done in the next few weeks and the trolley is expected be taken to the Magdalena Ridge in early Fall for site acceptance tests.

Jul 032013

bckgrnd_starrynightA special event is being planned at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory. OneDarkSky, a professional group dedicated to educating people about light pollution, is organizing an International Starry Night event, set to coincide with the Perseid Meteor Shower on Saturday, August 10th. Magdalena Ridge Observatory is proud to be one of several locations in various countries participating in this public global event.

The event coincides with the annual Regents’ Retreat and members of the NMT Board of Regents and their guests will be able to experience an evening at the Observatory.

“I’m excited to be showcasing our facilities to visitors,” said Dr. Daniel Lopez, President of New Mexico Tech. “Taking part in an international event like this lets people experience the Magdalena Ridge Observatory and how serious we are about our role in the global astronomical scientific community.”

The event will kick off with tours of Magdalena Ridge Observatory’s world-class instruments, including the 2.4-meter fast tracking telescope, the Interferometer, and Langmuir Atmospheric Laboratory, all of which are located at 10,600 ft on the spectacular Magdalena Ridge.

Guests are then encouraged to set out blankets and chairs, don warm clothing, and begin watching the cosmic fireworks in night sky. The shower will peak after midnight, so guests should be prepared to stay up late to see the wonder.

Says Dr. Ifan Payne, MRO Program Director, “We are proud to be a part of this international event and thrilled to be able to open to the Observatory to the public.”

Tours begin at 5:30 with the following schedule:
5:30-6:30 Tour Langmuir Laboratory
6:30-7:30 Tour MROI
7:30-8:30 Tour 2.4-m Telescope

The Perseid Meteor shower is an annual cosmic event which occurs when Earth’s orbit takes it through the debris left by the Swift-Tuttle comet. The debris burning up in Earth’s atmosphere produces the dazzling sight we call a meteor shower.

MRO is not doing this alone. Besides the many other observatories participating in the first ever International Starry Night, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array (VLA) has also lent its support and will be assisting MRO in coordinating this event.

This event is part of ongoing public outreach and education efforts at MRO. Starry Night at the Magdalena Ridge Observatory is free and open to the public. However, registration is closed. To learn more and to register, visit our event page.