Astronomers Convene First MMT Science Symposium

June 14, 2006
The 6.5-meter MMT on Mount Hopkins, Ariz., is the reincarnation of an earlier pioneering telescope.(Photo: Howard Lester, MMTO)
The 6.5-meter MMT on Mount Hopkins, Ariz., is the reincarnation of an earlier pioneering telescope.(Photo: Howard Lester, MMTO)

Astronomers who use the 6.5-meter MMT telescope on Mount Hopkins, Ariz., for state-of-the-art observations will convene a first MMT Science Symposium in Tucson June 14 - 15.

The telescope, a joint facility of The University of Arizona and the Smithsonian Institution, was converted from a 4.5-meter multiple-mirrored telescope to a 6.5-meter single-mirrored instrument in 1999.

The science symposium is to be held at the Doubletree Hotel, 445 S. Alvernon Way. It will be an informal workshop where astronomers will present scientific results from the converted MMT and the new generation of instruments which have come on line since the conversion. Participants will discuss new ideas, projects and collaborations with potential to expand the rich scientific return from the MMT for many years.

The 4.5-meter Multiple Mirror Telescope was the third largest optical telescope in the world when originally dedicated in 1979. A joint facility of the UA and Smithsonian Institution, the MMT has always been a pioneering project. The first of a new generation of large telescopes, it featured six 1.8-meter telescopes working as one, the first co-rotating building, and the first computer-controlled altitude-azimuth mount.

Innovative ideas proven in the original MMT have been used in many of today's large telescopes.

2000 and beyond
After nearly 20 years of successful operation, advances in telescope-making allowed the MMT to be converted into the first 6.5-meter telescope. When re-dedicated in 2000, the new telescope could gather more than twice as much light as before, and see a portion of sky 15 times wider.

To take advantage of the larger field of view, Smithsonian scientists have developed a spectrograph that can take data on as many as 300 galaxies at a time, and a camera that can take high quality images of objects as large as the full moon.

University of Arizona scientists designed the first-of-its-kind secondary mirror for the telescope that allows them to take the "twinkle" out of starlight. (See UA News story Astronomers Get Ultrasharp Images With Large Telescope in Arizona .) This adaptive optic secondary, with its companion instruments, will enable astronomers to directly detect planets around other stars.

Public Lecture
Astronomers using the 6.5-meter MMT have discovered two stars exiled from the Milky Way galaxy. Those stars are racing out of the Galaxy at speeds of more than 1 million miles per hour - so fast that they will never return.

"These stars literally are castaways," says Smithsonian astronomer Warren Brown of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "They have been thrown out of their home galaxy and set adrift in an ocean of intergalactic space."

Brown will talk about "Stars Ejected from the Galaxy by a Massive Black Hole," in a Steward Observatory public program June 15. This free lecture will be in the Steward Observatory lecture hall, N210, on the northwest corner of Cherry Ave. & the University mall at 7:30 p.m.

At the science symposium, Brown will talk about these results in "Ejected Hypervelocity Stars."

More Megacam results will be presented by CfA researchers Scott Gaudi and Joel Hartman as they describe "A High-Precision Transit Survey for Hot Jupiters and Hot Neptunes with Megacam."

Steward Observatory astronomer Xiaohui Fan presents research on "High Redshift Quasars." Fan and his colleagues have taken spectra of 20,000 objects with Hectospec, a 300 optical fiber robotic spectrograph on the MMT.

Michael Lloyd-Hart of UA's Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics and Christoph Baranec of UA's College of Optical Sciences will talk about the evolving adaptive optics system in "Multi-Laser-Guided Adaptive Optics - Science Goals - Status and Results."

Engineer honored
Although not a usual part of scientific meetings, the contributions of engineer J.T. Williams to the MMT and other area observatories will be recognized in a conference banquet and "roast" on Wednesday evening, June 14. To cite a few contributions, Williams has played a significant part in the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Satellite Tracking Program, planning and development of the Mount Hopkins Observatory (now the Fred L. Whipple Observatory), site development and construction of the 4.5-meter MMT and its later conversion to a 6.5-meter telescope, testing thermal qualities for seeing improvements at major observatories worldwide, and the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham, Ariz.